The 35 species of civet, genet and linsang make up the family Viverridae. They are small, lithe-bodied, mostly aboreal members of the order Carnivora. General appearance is broadly cat-like, but the muzzle is extended and often pointed, rather like an otter or a mongoose. The Civet's length, excluding its long tail, is about 17-28 inches and its weight is about 3 to 10 pounds.
They are native to most of the Old World tropics, nearly all of Africa bar the area immediately south of the Mediterranean, Madagascar, and the Iberian Peninsula. Favoured habitats include woodland, savanna, mountains and, above all, tropical rainforest. In consequence, many are faced with severe loss of habitat: several species are classed as vulnerable and both the Otter Civet and the Falanouc are classified as endangered.
Civets are omnivorous, supplementing a meat diet (both hunted and scavenged) with fruit, eggs, fish, insects, and possibly roots. One of the Civet's favorite fruits is the coffee "berry" which it seeks out and eats, but the bean often survives, which is sometimes gathered and sold as caphe cut chon, kopi luwak or "fox-dung coffee."
Civets are prized for their musk and their fur. Civet is used to refer to the musk they produce, as well as the animals themselves: it is used in small quantities in some perfumes. This musk is gathered by scraping it out of the Civet's anal sacs, a very painful process.
Despite their endangered species status, civets are also prized for their meat.
It has been suggested that the practice of eating them may have resulted in the SARS virus outbreak of 2003. In January 2004, Guangdong province in China banned sales of civet cats and ordered the slaughter of all captive civets. In January 2004 the United States announced an embargo on the importation of civets into the country.