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Civet cats are most well known for the role they play in producing civet coffee, also known as kopi luwak in Indonesia and caphe cut chon in the Philippines. The name is somewhat misleading, due to the fact that it refers to an animal that is not actually a cat, and is more closely related to a mongoose. Its appearance is more similar to a cat, however.
The civet cat is a fruit eating mammal of the taxonomic family Viverridae. Civet cats are mostly nocturnal, weigh between three and 10 pounds (1.36 and 4.54 kg), and can reach 28 inches (71.12 cm) in length. The Viverridae family is native to the southern portions of Africa, southern China, and Southeast Asia. They may be found in areas of tropical rain forest as well as savanna, mountain, and woodland biomes. Tropical forests in Asia are disappearing rapidly, and as a result civet cats are becoming endangered species.
These animals tend to eat the fruit from coffee plants. When the fruit passes through the digestive system, the beans are left undigested. During this process, the coffee beans absorb stomach enzymes, which purportedly add robust flavors and cut bitterness from the flavor of the coffee.
Coffee beans from civet cats are sold worldwide at astronomical process, anywhere from 10 to 50 times higher than even the finest gourmet coffee beans. In cafes in Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, individual cups of civet coffee are sold for prices such as $30 US in New York to £50 British Pounds Sterling (GBP) or more in London. Some coffee growers have begun to keep civet cats on their plantation and specifically harvest coffee beans found in civet dung for sale in the lucrative civet coffee market. Others have attempted to enter this market by offering coffee beans that have been chemically treated so that they contain similar flavors to those sought by consumers of civet coffee.
In southern China, civet cats are often eaten. They are typically roasted whole and the meat is prepared with popular Chinese ingredients, such as soy sauce, garlic, sugar, and ginger. A Chinese specialty soup called Dragon, Tiger, and Phoenix is made with civet meat. By scraping the perineal glands of civet cats, musk can be obtained that is used as a stabilizer in many expensive perfumes. This substance is also sometimes used as an additive in candy, intended to give the product a buttery or caramel taste.
When Severe Acute Respiratory System (SARS) first appeared in humans in 2003, some theorized that origin of the virus could be the civet. This was never proven, and many dismissed the theory. Since that time, they have become a less popular target for hunting as wild game.