1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Civet

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CIVET, or properly Civet-cat, the designation of the more typical representatives of the mammalian family Viverridae (see Carnivora). Civets are characterized by the possession of a deep pouch in the neighbourhood of the genital organs, into which the substance known as civet is poured from the glands by which it is secreted. This fatty substance is at first semifluid and yellow, but afterwards acquires the consistency of pomade and becomes darker. It has a strong musky odour, exceedingly disagreeable to those unaccustomed to it, but “when properly diluted and combined with other scents it produces a very pleasing effect, and possesses a much more floral fragrance than musk, indeed it would be impossible to imitate some flowers without it.” The African civet (Viverra civetta) is from 2 to 3 ft. in length, exclusive of the tail, which is half the length of the body, and stands from 10 to 12 in. high. It is covered with long hair, longest on the middle line of the back, where it is capable of being raised or depressed at will, of a dark-grey colour, with numerous transverse black bands and spots. In habits it is chiefly nocturnal, and by preference carnivorous, feeding on birds and the smaller quadrupeds, in pursuit of which it climbs trees, but it is said also to eat fruits, roots and other vegetable matters. In a state of captivity the civet is never completely tamed, and only kept for the sake of its perfume, which is obtained in largest quantity from the male, especially when in good condition and subjected to irritation, being scraped from the pouch with a small spoon usually twice a week. The zibeth (Viverra zibetha) is a widely distributed species extending from Arabia to Malabar, and throughout several of the larger islands of the Indian Archipelago. It is smaller than the true civet, and wants the dorsal crest. In the wild state it does great damage among poultry, and frequently makes off with the young of swine and sheep. When hunted it makes a determined resistance, and emits a scent so strong as even to sicken the dogs, who nevertheless are exceedingly fond of the sport, and cannot be got to pursue any other game while the stench of the zibeth is in their nostrils. In confinement, it becomes comparatively tame, and yields civet in considerable quantity. In preparing this for the market it is usually spread out on the leaves of the pepper plant in order to free it from the hairs that have become detached from the pouch. On the Malabar coast this species is replaced by V. civettina. The small Indian civet or rasse (Viverricula malaccensis) ranges from Madagascar through India to China, the Malay Peninsula, and the islands of the Archipelago. It is almost 3 ft. long including the tail, and prettily marked with dark longitudinal stripes, and spots which have a distinctly linear arrangement. The perfume, which is extracted in the same way as in the two preceding species, is highly valued and much used by the Javanese. Although this animal is said to be an expert climber it usually inhabits holes in the ground. It is frequently kept in captivity in the East, and becomes tame. Fossil remains of extinct civets are found in the Miocene strata of Europe.