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The Palm Civet Gauge

Updated on July 31, 2017
Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.

The Palm Civet in Asia is represented by several different species and umpteen subspecies. The most familiar is the Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus. This cat sized mammal is actually known as the 'Toddy Cat' in some areas but is not a member of the cat family. It is from the Viverridae. All Civets are omnivorous and largely nocturnal.

The Palm Civet is the primary harvester of the worlds most expensive coffee. The fussy civet sneaks into the coffee plantations at night and eats only the ripest and juiciest of the coffee berries. The coffee 'beans' are not digested but are acted upon and changed by enzymes in the Civets gut and are passed out in the Civet Poop. This is collected and the beans roasted and processed to produce pricey aromatic coffee (Kopi Luak). As long as you don't think about it it tastes fine. In spite of the high prices demanded it sells because of its reputed aphrodisiac properties. Not the only one with such a claim to fame. There is that famous Malaysian brew as well.

Today the poor little Palm Civet is being farmed in the most horrendous conditions to supply a luxury market.

Unprocessed Civet Coffee Beans

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Masked Palm Civet

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Believe it or not there is even a beer brewed out of civet cat dung. It is quite strong too (as well as being expensive) and I daresay that once you have forced the first couple of pints down your throat you will not be too bothered where it came from.

Civet Poo Beer

Civet in a Hole

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As members of the Viverridae the Civets have an active gland beneth the tail producing a strongly scented 'oil' used for marking its territory and letting other Civets know what it has been up to. This oil is known as 'Civet' and was originally imported into Europe as a medicine from Asia where it had been used as such for thousands of years as a cure for scabies amongst other things. Today its main use is as a fixative in the manufacture of perfumes. Its use in perfumery goes back to the tenth century BC when it was recorded as being imported from Africa (African Civets) by King Solomon. Naturally too there were claims of aphrodisiac powers.

This unfortunate little creature was blamed for the SARS outbreak in 2003. At the time the Civet figured highly on the menus of many Chinese meals. Thousands of of Palm Civets were slaughtered and incinerated. It was only after the fact that the most likely culprit was believed to be bats and that the Civet Cats had caught SARS off people.

You may think that you have seen Civet on the menu in some restaurants in Europe but it is unlikely....though the word 'Civet' is used to describe some French and Italian game cooking recipes.

World's most expensive coffee

The Palm Civet Gauge

The Palm Civet is common enough in Asia and practically every animal collection you visit will have at least one. To me, just because an animal is common does not make it any less deserving than the rarities. I am not alone of course as many staff in many zoos genuinely care about their animals.

It did not take me long into my tour of Asian Zoos to see there exists a parity in how a collection treats its Palm Civets. If the Palm Civet and its enclosure are dirty and ignored, its natural biology  not taken into account and if there is no cage furniture and enrichment then the rest of the zoo will compare in many ways.

Zoos which cannot care for Palm Civets should not keep animals at all. 

So that is the Palm Civet Gauge. Give it a try sometime.


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