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When is a Cat Not a Cat?

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When is a cat not a cat? The easiest answer would be; when a name is only a name. The African Civet is often labeled as an African Civet Cat, but it has absolutely no similarities to it’s feline friend. It has a great many similarities to several different animals, but none of which are cats.

The closest animal that a civet can be compared to would be a weasel or a mongoose, but even those are iffy comparisons. It’s head is shaped something like that of an otter, which might explain why it dunks it’s entire head in to get a drink. They’re also semi-aquatic, so it’s more of a surprise that they don’t climb all the way in to bathe while they drink.

The eyes of an African Civet are most commonly ringed with black, giving them the appearance of raccoon eyes. Which often has people thinking that they are part raccoon. They are not. They also have spots like a leopard, but take no part in that family either. Along their spine they have an erectile dorsal crest, for when they’re threatened. The hair on their spine is slightly longer, so when they raise it up it makes them look a little more fearsome. Now this is their one slight feline similarity.

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You might be wondering what exactly an African Civet is, since it resembles so many different animals. Well it’s sort of a lone breed. There are other civets who are all similar and belong together in the same genus. Then there’s the African Civet, who is in a genus all on their own.

You have probably heard more about civet products then the actual civet themselves. They have a perineal and anal gland that secretes a musky scent. This musk is often called civet and it’s been used in a few highly sought after perfume lines. The method of extraction can be relatively painless for the animal, depending on the person or people doing the extracting. It can be done in their natural habitat, but they are often captured or killed for their musk.

The African Civet remains somewhat of a mystery. Being nocturnal creatures makes them harder to observe and they like their solitary lifestyle. I suppose looking like several different animals allows them the freedom to blend in and hold on to their secrecy. Maybe that was their goal all along.

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Julie Antonson

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