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What Are Civet Cats?

By P.M. Willers
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1003809 — On Sep 10, 2020

A shit cup of coffee brewing the next pandemic

(after Heathcote Williams)

The civet cat

is a gentle fruit-eater,

a shy, nocturnal mammal,

from the family

“Viverridae.”

Native to the tropical

rainforests, woodlands,

savannah and mountains

of Southern Africa,

China and South East Asia,

occasionally,

when food is scarce in nature,

as an act of desperation,

these vegan animals

will eat the fruit

of coffee plants.

The tough beans

(of little nutritional value)

are left undigested.

And herein lies

the problem.

Humans addicted

to morning/afternoon,

indoor/outdoor,

weekend/hourly fixes,

obsessed with trying out

the new, the ‘exotic’

have discovered

that the civet’s

stomach enzymes

cut the bitterness

from the flavour

in their coffee cup -

even adding

some “robust” extras.

Coffee beans

from force-fed civet cats

(made to eat

ungoldly amounts

with laxatives

to maximise

the collection

of “processed” beans,)

are now desired

as the finest “gourmet,”

fetching astronomical global prices,

10 to 50 times higher,

than their counterparts.

In conscience-less cafés

in Indonesia, Bali, China,

the Philippines, New York and London,

single cups of “civet coffee,”

“kopi luwak,” “caphe cut chon,”

“cat poop coffee” are sold

for upwards of $30, £50...

costing the lives,

freedom and well-being

of many poor civet cats.

Highly endangered,

rapidly disappearing,

mercilessly hunted,

(trapped at 6 months old,

confined to tiny,

rusting, wire-floor cages,)

horrifically abused

and exploited, in new,

make-shift “factory farms,”

they are sold on to live

animal markets,

when their digestive systems

finally fail.

Skinned alive,

murdered,

eaten to boot,

(in Southern China,

roasted whole,

sometimes still living,

with garlic, soy and ginger…)

these nonviolent beings

are turned into “Tiger”

“Dragon” and “Phoenix” ‘soups,’

(their perineal glands first scraped

to provide the buttery,

caramel taste in sweets,

and to “stabilize”

expensive perfumes.)

When SARS first appeared

in humans, in China, in 2003

“Severe Acute Respiratory System,”

many knew (and researchers discovered)

that the origin was to be found

in the tortured, savoured civet cats.

Their hellish existences,

at Man’s cruel hands,

(immune systems attacked

beyond self-repair,)

are now thought to have made them

“intermediate hosts”

between bats and humans

for COVID-19 too.

More Karma for the comatose.

Thank you, wise geeks!

I hope you don't mind the echoes.

Please see PETA Asia's recent investigation into all this in Bali. It's horrific and totally unacceptable. Man-made hell on earth. Immense suffering.

By anon1003796 — On Sep 09, 2020

You all need to read and help spread the word re-the horrific truth behind all this. PETA Asia has just done a big investigation in Bali. It's heartbreaking and desperately needs to be known about. We're not allowed to post web addresses, but for those with good hearts, peta asia features kopi luwak will take you there. Hell on earth and totally unacceptable.

By bear78 — On Nov 07, 2014

Civet cats are adorable. I can see why they're called "cats" even though they are not in the cat family. They definitely do resemble cats. I've never seen one up-close but I've seen many pictures. They look like a combination of the cat and the rodent family. But definitely very cute.

By donasmrs — On Nov 06, 2014

@SteamLouis-- The first comment answered this already. Unfortunately, you're right. A prominent newspaper investigated this in 2012 and found out that civet cats were force fed.

Technically, in the wild, civet cats do feed on coffee beans sometimes. They digest the outside of the beans, the flesh. The bean passes through their system partially digested. But it's true that there is no considerable nutritional benefit for them. And they are kept in less than desirable conditions.

I don't understand why people just don't stop drinking this type of coffee. If no one drinks it, no one will produce it. It's simple.

By SteamLouis — On Nov 06, 2014

Do civet cats really normally eat coffee beans?

I don't think I would ever try civet coffee because I think there might be a tendency to harm these animals for the production of this coffee. Are the civet cats force fed the coffee beans?

Since the beans leave their system undigested, it must have no nutritional benefit for them. I'm assuming that in nature, they probably only eat coffee beans when they can't find anything else or once in a while accidentally. But I'm imagining coffee producers forcing these animals to feed on the coffee beans to make civet coffee.

By CBlizzard — On Nov 04, 2014

Yes and why would someone be willing to drink something that can literally be considered feces. This is just a case of some people having way too much money and others having way to little.

By Steamland — On Nov 03, 2014

Unfortunately this lucrative market has led to horrible animal cruelty when it comes to processing civet cat coffee. The animals are often kept in individual chicken cages and force fed ungodly amounts of coffee beans and laxative in order to maximize the amount of processed beans which can be collected after digestion. Just goes to show that if there's money involved, people will be willing to do anything to get a hold of it.

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