Closer look: civets and genets


The African civet Civettictis civetta is the sole terrestrial civet found in Africa, the rest being found in Indian subcontinent. It is a heavy set cat-like animal and is still referred to as a civet-cat by some though it is not a member of the felids. Civets have a white body with black blotchy spots. They have a black face mask and black legs; the tail appears ringed with a thick black line running down the top. They have an erectile dorsal crest which they raise when alarmed or in aggression. This can be seen on a few of our camera-trap images.

civet showing perineal gland


The African civet is most famous for its musk that is used in the perfume trade. Don’t get the wrong impression, it smells terrible, but helps fix scent. Its use has mostly been replaced with synthetic fixers these days which is good news for civets. Civet farms are not regulated and animals are usually kept in small cages from which they are ‘milked’ daily. The real use of their perineal gland which is situated near the anus is to paste an object such as a tree to act as territorial sign post.

African civets are omnivorous, eating a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate prey as well as taking advantage of fallen fruit. They are clumsy killers and often employ a bite and retreat or bite and throw tactic, where prey is bitten and thrown before quickly running away. The prey is hopefully immobilised so the civet can return to inflict the killing bite. Scent and sound are the predominant senses used by civets. They are classified as Least Concern on the IUNC Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature)


The Genet family has 15 subspecies in Africa and these are all still hotly debated. The Serengeti is home to at least two of these, the Common Genet Genetta genetta and the Rusty Spotted or Central African Large Spotted Genet Genetta maculate. It is very hard to tell them apart, especially in a fleeting camera-trap picture but the Common Genet usually has a white tipped tail and the Rusty Spotted Genet has a black tipped tail.

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They are small agile mammals that resemble a cat with short legs. Their silvery grey coat is marked with black spots in the Common Genet and black to brown spots in the Rusty Spotted Genet. They have dark marks either side of the muzzle below the eyes giving them a slightly racoon-like look.  The tail which is banded is almost as long as the body and can appear quite bushy when alarmed.

The Genets are mainly carnivorous and they will eat mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. They hunt in trees and on the ground and are extremely dextrous.  They spend their days in holes in trees, thick bushes, rocky crevices and sometimes in ground holes. Like civets they also have a perineal gland that they use for scent marking. To do this they will stand on their forefeet in a handstand posture and rub the raised gland on a tree or bush. Both Common Genet and Rusty Spotted Genet are classed as Least Concern on the IUNC Red List.


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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

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