African Palm Civet – Description, Diet, Behavior, And Fun Facts

By Kevin Myers | 2023 Update

Whiskered, stealthy, and seldom seen, the African Palm Civet is a nocturnal mystery, expertly blending into the tree canopy of tropical African landscapes.

Uniquely adapted to a largely arboreal lifestyle, this enigmatic creature navigates the terrain with cat-like agility, despite being more closely related to mongooses.

Characterized by a pointed muzzle, ringed tail, and striking coat of diverse patterns, the African Palm Civet adds a touch of elusive charm to the tapestry of Africa’s vibrant wildlife.

Scientific NameNandinia binotata
Size41 to 71 cm in body length
Weight1.4 to 4.5 kg (males are slightly larger than females)
CoatShort, dense, and grayish with patches of white, black, and reddish-brown
Face FeaturesPointed snout, large eyes, and prominent whiskers
Tail LengthApproximately equal to the body length
HabitatTropical rainforests, woodlands, riverine forests, plantations
DietFruits, insects, small mammals, birds, occasional eggs
Social BehaviorSolitary
Climbing AbilitiesExcellent climbers with sharp, retractile claws
LifespanUp to 15 years in the wild, up to 20+ years in captivity
Conservation Status“Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List

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What is an African Palm Civet?

Origin and Evolution

The African Palm Civet, scientifically known as Nandinia binotata, has a distinct lineage that’s as unique and intriguing as the animal itself.

Its evolutionary origin traces back to the Viverridae family, a group of medium-sized mammals that also includes the likes of civets, genets, and linsangs. However, unlike its namesake relatives, the African Palm Civet is the only surviving member of the Nandiniidae family, showcasing an independent lineage that split from other viverrids around 24.3 million years ago.

This split corresponds to the Miocene epoch, a time characterized by significant evolutionary changes and diversification among mammals due to environmental shifts. Thus, the African Palm Civet represents a distinct branch in the viverrid evolutionary tree, embodying a unique set of adaptations and traits that have enabled its survival in the varied ecosystems across sub-Saharan Africa.

While extensive fossil records for Nandinia are not readily available, genetic studies suggest that this creature has undergone a long evolutionary journey, fine-tuning its adaptations to its arboreal, nocturnal lifestyle. It’s an enduring emblem of evolution’s creativity, encapsulating millions of years of adaptation and survival in the vibrant and diverse landscapes of Africa.

African Palm Civet Types/Species

The African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata) is a unique species and the only member of the family Nandiniidae. Unlike other civet species, which belong to the Viverridae family, the African Palm Civet has a separate evolutionary lineage.

Therefore, there aren’t different types or subspecies of African Palm Civet.

However, the term “civet” is often used to describe various small to medium-sized mammals within the Viverridae family, which includes true civets, genets, and linsangs. These species share certain physical traits but are distinct from the African Palm Civet.

Some examples of other civets include:

1. Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)

2. Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica)

3. Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha)

4. Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga)

It is essential to understand that these species are distinct from the African Palm Civet and are not considered “types” of the African Palm Civet.

Physical Appearances and Adaptations

1. Size & Weight: Medium-sized mammal, body length ranges from 41 to 71 cm, with an almost equal tail length. Males are slightly larger than females, weighing between 1.4 to 4.5 kg.

2. Fur: Short, dense, and grayish coat with patches of white, black, and reddish-brown, allowing perfect camouflage in tree habitats.

3. Face Features: Pointed snout, large eyes, and prominent whiskers that are adapted to nocturnal living. Large eyes enhance vision in low light, and whiskers improve sensory perception for navigation and hunting.

4. Body & Tail: Robust body and long tail for balance and stability when moving through trees.

5. Claws: Sharp, retractile claws similar to a cat’s, facilitating proficient climbing and grasping of branches.

6. Teeth: Total of 40 teeth arranged in a carnivorous dental pattern, enabling a varied diet of fruits, insects, rodents, and birds.

Behavior and Lifestyle

Nocturnal & Solitary: African Palm Civets are primarily nocturnal creatures, venturing out at night to hunt and forage. They are also solitary by nature, preferring to live and hunt alone.

Arboreal Living: They spend most of their time in trees, making their homes in tree hollows or dense foliage. Their arboreal lifestyle is facilitated by their excellent climbing abilities.

Diet: They have an omnivorous diet, consuming a variety of foods such as fruits, insects, small mammals, and birds. They have a particular fondness for palm fruits, from which they derive their name.

Communication: African Palm Civets mark their territory and communicate with each other using scent marks from their perineal glands.

Predators & Defense: Their main predators include large birds of prey, snakes, and large carnivorous mammals. When threatened, they hiss and growl, and their ability to quickly climb trees helps them escape danger.

Reproduction: Mating can occur at any time of the year, where females give birth to up to 4 young. The gestation period is about 64 days.

Eating Habits

The African Palm Civet is an omnivore, exhibiting a diverse diet that varies with season and availability of food. This flexibility allows them to adapt to different environments and sustain themselves throughout the year.

1. Fruits: One of the primary components of their diet is fruit. They particularly relish palm fruits, hence their name. Their consumption of fruit plays a crucial role in seed dispersal, helping maintain the biodiversity of their habitats. 

2. Small Mammals and Birds: African Palm Civets are opportunistic predators. They hunt small mammals like rodents and also consume birds. 

3. Insects: A significant part of their diet includes insects. They use their keen senses to locate and capture various invertebrates. 

4. Other Foods: Occasionally, they may also consume eggs, lizards, and amphibians. In fact, they’ve also been known to eat carrion when other food sources are scarce. 

Reproduction and Lifespan


1. Breeding Season: African Palm Civets can breed throughout the year, but mating activity often increases during the wet season.

2. Gestation Period: After mating, the female undergoes a gestation period of approximately 64 days.

3. Offspring: A typical litter consists of 1 to 4 young civets. At birth, the offspring are blind and helpless but are quickly weaned and grow rapidly. 

4. Maturation: Juvenile civets attain sexual maturity at about one to two years of age, after which they can partake in the breeding process.


African Palm Civets have a relatively long lifespan for creatures of their size.

They’ve been known to live for up to 15 years in the wild, whereas in captivity, with a controlled environment and lack of natural predators, they can live for up to 20 years or more.

This longevity is attributed to their versatile diet, adaptability to different habitats, and elusive nature, which aids in avoiding predators.

Distribution and Habitat

Distribution of African Palm Civets:

The African Palm Civet is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, inhabiting a range of countries from Guinea and Sierra Leone in the west to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya in the east. Their range also extends to the south, reaching Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Habitat of African Palm Civets:

These versatile mammals are found in a variety of habitats, reflecting their adaptability and ability to thrive in different environments.

Some of the most common habitats they occupy include:

1. Tropical Rainforests: African Palm Civets can be found in dense forests, where their arboreal lifestyle and excellent climbing abilities enable them to navigate the canopy with ease.

2. Woodlands: They also inhabit open woodlands and savannas, where they can find a mix of trees and open spaces for foraging.

3. Riverine Forests: Palm Civets are known to frequent riverine forests, where an abundance of food and water sources is available.

4. Plantations: They have been found in agricultural areas, such as palm oil, coffee, and cocoa plantations, taking advantage of the food and shelter these environments provide.

Predators and Threats

The African Palm Civet, despite its elusive nature and arboreal lifestyle, faces several predators and threats in its natural habitat.


1. Large Birds of Prey: Raptors such as eagles and owls, which also inhabit the canopy, are known to prey on the African Palm Civet.

2. Snakes: Large snakes like pythons can pose a threat to the civets, especially the younger, more vulnerable individuals.

3. Large Carnivorous Mammals: Mammals such as leopards or large wildcats can occasionally prey on the African Palm Civet.


1. Habitat Loss: The most significant threat faced by African Palm Civets is habitat loss due to deforestation, agriculture, and human expansion. Destruction of their natural habitat disrupts their territory, food sources, and shelter.

2. Human-Wildlife Conflict: In some areas, African Palm Civets are considered pests by local farmers, as they’ve been known to cause damage to fruit crops and plantations. As a result, they may be hunted or trapped.

3. Bushmeat Trade: Although not a primary target, the African Palm Civet may sometimes be hunted for bushmeat, which adds to the pressure on their populations.

Conservation Status and Life Today

The African Palm Civet is classified as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on their Red List of Threatened Species. This classification is due to their widespread distribution across sub-Saharan Africa and their adaptable nature, enabling them to thrive in a variety of habitats.

However, this status does not mean they are free from threats. As mentioned earlier, they face significant challenges, such as habitat loss due to deforestation and agriculture, human-wildlife conflict, and occasionally being hunted for bushmeat. 

Although there are currently no specific conservation programs in place solely for the African Palm Civet, they do benefit from the existence of national parks and protected areas within their range. These protected areas safeguard their habitats from deforestation and hunting, thus providing safe zones for these animals.

In addition, some general measures can aid in the conservation of the African Palm Civet. This includes reducing deforestation, promoting sustainable farming practices, and raising awareness about how they’re important for our ecosystem’s health.

5 Incredible Fun Facts About African Palm Civet

1. Unique Lineage

Despite its name, the African Palm Civet isn’t a true civet. It’s the only member of its family, Nandiniidae, reflecting a unique evolutionary lineage that diverged from other civets around 24.3 million years ago.

2. Versatile Diet

African Palm Civets have a highly varied diet. They are known to eat fruits, insects, small mammals, birds, and even eggs. This dietary versatility has allowed them to survive in a wide range of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.

3. Tree Dwellers

These creatures are excellent climbers and live in trees for a significant portion of their lives. Their bodies are adapted for this lifestyle, with sharp, retractile claws that allow them to navigate the tree canopies with ease.

4. Night Crawlers

African Palm Civets are nocturnal creatures. Their large eyes and acute senses are adapted to function optimally at night, when they venture out to hunt and forage.

5. Scent Communication

These animals use scent marking as a form of communication. They possess perineal glands, which they use to produce a strong-smelling secretion to mark their territory and communicate with other civets.

Relationship With Humans

1. Cultural Significance: In some African cultures, the African Palm Civet holds cultural or spiritual significance. It may be associated with folklore, traditional beliefs, or symbolism.

2. Agricultural Interactions: African Palm Civets can have both positive and negative interactions with agriculture. While they are attracted to fruit-bearing crops like palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, their foraging can cause damage to the crops, leading to conflicts with farmers.

3. Coffee Production: The African Palm Civet gained attention in the coffee industry due to a unique and controversial practice known as “civet coffee” or “kopi luwak.” In this process, the civets consume coffee cherries, and the undigested beans are collected from their feces, cleaned, and used to produce a rare and expensive coffee. However, ethical concerns have arisen regarding the treatment and welfare of civets involved in this industry.

4. Wildlife Trade: Unfortunately, some African Palm Civets may be captured and traded illegally as exotic pets or for their fur. This poses a threat to their populations and is against regulations aimed at protecting wildlife.

African Palm Civets FAQs

Q: Is the African Palm Civet a type of civet?

A: Despite its name, the African Palm Civet isn’t a true civet. It belongs to its own family, Nandiniidae, which is separate from the Viverridae family that includes true civets.

Q: What does the African Palm Civet eat?

A: African Palm Civets have a varied diet that includes fruits, insects, small mammals, birds, and occasionally eggs. Their preference for palm fruits is what gives them their name.

Q: Where does the African Palm Civet live?

   A: African Palm Civets are found across sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer arboreal habitats and can be found in various environments ranging from tropical rainforests to open woodlands, riverine forests, and even plantations.

Q: Is the African Palm Civet endangered?

A: As of the last update in September 2021, the African Palm Civet is listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN Red List. This means their populations are currently stable. However, they still face threats like habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and hunting.

Q: How long does the African Palm Civet live?

A: In the wild, African Palm Civets can live up to 15 years. In captivity, where there are fewer threats, they reach 20 years or even more.

Q: Are African Palm Civets solitary or social animals?

A: African Palm Civets are solitary animals. They prefer to live and hunt alone, and they use scent marking to communicate and establish territories.