Civet oil actually one of those oils by which I was taken back pretty much owing to the nature of its extraction and even its source of extraction…But then again when I did understand the utility and worth of the oil, I was awed.
Small to medium-sized carnivores, civets are in the Viverridae family which includes genets, linsangs, and mongooses. There are 35 species of civets and genets in 20 genera. Their natural distribution is restricted to the warmer regions of the Old World, and they occupy a niche similarly filled by weasels and their relatives found in temperate deciduous forests. Civets vary in size and form, but most present a catlike appearance with –
- Long noses
- Slender bodies
- Pointed ears
- Short legs
- Long furry tail
Civets with a spotted or striped coat have five toes on each foot. There is webbing between the toes, and the claws are totally or semi-retractile. The pointed ears extend above the profile of the head. The ear flaps have pockets or bursae on the outside margins, similar to domestic cats. Their teeth are specialized for an omnivorous diet, including shearing carnassial teeth and flat-crowned molars in both upper and lower jaws. Teeth number from 38 to 40, depending on the species.
Primarily nocturnal foragers with semiarboreal and arboreal habits, civets typically ambush their prey. During the day, civets usually rest in a hollow tree, rock crevice or empty, shallow burrow. They are solitary animals maintaining a wide home range (250 acres [101 ha]) by scent marking trees on the borders of their territory. The term “civet” is derived from an Arabic word describing the oily fluid and its odor secreted by the perineal glands. Scent marking is important in civet communication, but the method differs among species from passively passing the scent when moving about causing the gland to rub vegetation, to squatting and then wiping or rubbing the gland on the ground or some prominent object.
Civet oil has been used in the perfume industry for centuries and has been recorded as being imported from Africa by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C. Once refined, civet oil is prized for its odor and long lasting properties. Civet oil is also valued for its medicinal uses which include the reduction of perspiration, a cure for some skin disorders and claims of aphrodisiac powers. Although the development of sensitive chemical substitutes has decreased the value of civet oil, it is still a part of some East African and Oriental economies.
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