What is a civet?
Civets are small to medium-sized nocturnal mammals which can be found in tropical Asia and Africa. Often referred to as “civet cats”, they are commonly mistaken to be a member of the cat family (Felidae). However, civets actually belong to the Viverridae and are more closely related to mongooses or hyenas. Most civets are striped or spotted, and possess perineal glands which are used for marking territory and communication. Civets are solitary in nature and are found only in small family groups when they have young with them. They are also adept climbers and may be seen up in trees.
In the kopi luwak trade, there are two species frequently used: the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and small-toothed palm civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata). Both species are found in Southeast Asia and are under the IUCN Red List. They are under the “Least Concern” status, although trends suggest declining populations for the small-toothed palm civet.
What is the natural diet of a civet?
Civets are omnivores. Depending on the species, some eat more plant matter (e.g. fruits), while others hunt for prey (e.g. insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals). Palm civets are generally frugivores (i.e. fruit-eaters) and play important roles in the ecosystem. Fruit-eating civets help to disperse seeds while the more carnivorous species aid in keeping prey populations in check.
In Singapore, there has been ongoing research since 2010 to determine the wild diet of the common palm civet and its effectiveness as a long-distance seed disperser. It was found that the common palm civet is largely frugivorous and eats a wide variety of items consisting of both fruits and animals. This is also consistent with similar research conducted in India, Myanmar, Nepal and Malaysia.
Head to Cruel Coffee to find out how the caged kopi luwak trade impacts the life of civets.