Nandinia binotataAfrican palm civet

Geographic Range

African palm civets are widely distributed across the equatorial region of Africa. They are found in the southern half of West Africa and in most of Central and East Africa. They are found as far northwest as Senegal and as far northeast as Kenya. They range to Angola in the southeast and to Mozambique in the southwest. They have also been discovered on Unguja Island off the coast of Tanzania. There are four sub-species of African palm civets. Nandinia binotata binotata is found in main forest blocks from Gambia south and east to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nandinia binotata arborea occurs in an isolated group in East Africa (Kenya, southern Sudan, northern Tanzania and Uganda). Nandinia binotata gerrardi is found south of N. b. arborea, in former Nyassaland (Malawi, Mozambique, and portions of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Zambia). Nandinia binotata intensa is found in the southern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and in Zambia. ("Mammals III", 2003; "Two-spotted palm civet (African palm civet)", 2013; Alden, et al., 1995; Heller, 1914; Kingdon, 1997; Perkin, 2004; Van Rompaey, et al., 2012)


African palm civets mainly live in rainforests but are found in other wooded areas that have a minimum rainfall of 1,000 mm (40 inches) per year and have fruit-bearing trees year-round. They are found in deciduous forests, lowland rainforests, and mountainous areas that are under 2,000 m (6,500 ft), and riparian forests, savanna woodlands, and logged and second-growth forests. They have also been known to visit cultivated fields bordering forest edges. They find shelter in many places such as holes, crevices, the forks of trees, or tangled vines. They are also sometimes found sleeping in gutters, thick undergrowth in farm and village margins, woodpiles, old dead trees, pits of dead leaves, thatched roofs and overgrown shrubbery in rubbish dumps due to the expansion of human developments. (Alden, et al., 1995; Kingdon, 1997; Van Rompaey, et al., 2012)

  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

Physical Description

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1.5 to 5 kg
    3.30 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    42 to 58 cm
    16.54 to 22.83 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    5.5650 W cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    5.565 W


African palm civets breed twice a year during the rainy seasons. One male will breed with multiple females who live in home ranges that overlap his home range. ("Mammals III", 2003; Kingdon, 1997)

Male and female African palm civets can breed twice a year, typically during rainy seasons. After the female becomes pregnant, she goes through 9 weeks of gestation with birth happening around May and October. Female civets typically give birth in a hollow tree to 2 offspring, each weighing about 55 g, but can have up to 4 offspring at a time. After about 64 days, baby civets are weaned and then the young accompany the mother when she forages until they are nearly adult size. After an average of 3 years, both males and females reach the age of sexual maturity. ("Mammals III", 2003; Alden, et al., 1995; Kingdon, 1997; Tacutu, et al., 2013)

  • Breeding interval
    African palm civets breed twice a year.
  • Breeding season
    African palm civets breed around March and August.
  • Range number of offspring
    4 (high)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    64 days
  • Average gestation period
    64 days
  • Average weaning age
    64 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1095 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1095 days

The young are provided with milk from the mother for an average of 64 days and then will accompany the mother until they are almost full grown. (Kingdon, 1997; Tacutu, et al., 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


There is not much known about the lifespan of African palm civets in the wild, but they have lived in captivity for up to 21 years. (Tacutu, et al., 2013)


African palm civets are solitary animals, but individuals have overlapping home ranges. Many civets forage in the same areas as other civets do. They are nocturnal creatures that are typically most active shortly after nightfall for 3 to 4 hours and then active again 3 to 4 hours before the sunrise. During the day, African palm civets can be found hiding or sleeping. Both males and females are territorial, using scent markings to establish their territories. (Alden, et al., 1995; Kingdon, 1997)

Home Range

Although generally solitary, a dominant male will have a home range that overlaps the home ranges of several females. (Alden, et al., 1995)

Communication and Perception

Most communication is through scent markings and sounds. African palm civets have many scent glands. The main scent gland is on the lower abdomen; it secretes a large amount of a brown musk. There are other glands on the bottom of the chin and feet that secrete a scent that has been described as having a floral or fruity smell. There is another scent gland that is on the belly of a lactating mother. This gland stains the young with a bright yellow color, but the exact reason for this is unknown. African palm civets make many different sounds. They are most known for their unique hooting calls. When talking to other palm civets they make loud mewing and clucking sounds, and they have the ability to purr. When threatened these civets can growl and they have a loud scream and bark. (Alden, et al., 1995; Kingdon, 1997)

Food Habits

African palm civets are omnivores. They live in areas that produce fruit almost year around. Some of the fruit the palm civet eat come from umbrella trees (Musanga), sugar plums (Uapaca), corkwood (Myrianthus), wild figs (Fica), as well as the fleshy pulp from oil palms (Elaeis guineensis). Even though fruit is an important part of their diet, African palm civets are opportunistic; they will supplement their diet with whatever other foods they find. They eat rodents, insects, lizards, bats, birds, eggs, and hatchlings. African palm civets are also known to eat carrion. They will even raid farms for small livestock, including chickens, lambs, goat kids, and turkeys. These civets catch prey by stalking and then pouncing. Once the prey is caught they bite the prey repeatedly and eat large pieces. ("Mammals III", 2003; Alden, et al., 1995; Campbell, 2009; Kingdon, 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


The only known predator of African palm civets is humans. They have incredible camouflage; blending into the trees very well. If these civets are seen and feel threatened, they will fight. Since humans often bring domestic dogs with them for protection when traveling through forests, there have been encounters between civets and domestic dogs - and African palm civets have been known to win fights against domestic dogs. (Campbell, 2009; Kingdon, 1997)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

African palm civets prey on many different animals in their environment. They also disperse seeds through the forest from the fruit that they eat. They are a known reservoir for Trypanosoma brucei: a protozoan that causes African sleeping sickness in humans, resulting in the victim falling into a coma and eventually leading to death. African palm civets are just one of many species of animals that carry this protozoan. However African palm civets are not affected by this parasite. (Anselme Massussia, et al., 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Trypanosoma brucei

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In some areas African palm civets are hunted by humans and used for meat and medicines. The fur is used for clothes, hats, and other accessories. In other areas these civets can be helpful pest managers: preying on rodents found in farmlands. (Campbell, 2009; Van Rompaey, et al., 2012)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Local communities see African palm civets as mostly an annoyance, but they are sometimes feared. They are described as a food thief because they sometimes catch livestock. When in close contact, African palm civets will bite, but typically only when they are startled or their sleep is disturbed. African palm civets also negatively impact humans because they are a carrier of Trypanosoma brucei. (Campbell, 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

African palm civets are listed by the IUCN with a status of Least Concern because they have a large geographic range and live in many protected areas. There is some concern related to habitat destruction (due to the rise in agriculture in the area) and hunting of these civets. (Van Rompaey, et al., 2012)

Other Comments

African palm civets are the only members of the Nandiniidae family. They have previously been classified with Asian civets (Viverridae, subfamily Paradoxurinae), and seemed to be more closely related to them than to other African civets (also in the Viverridae family). However, recent analyses suggest that African palm civets have more primitive characters than other civets, and diverged early from the remaining civets, supporting their placement in a distinct family. (Flynn and Nedbal, 1998; Gaubert, et al., 2005; Kingdon, 1997; Veron, 2010)


Samantha Kotelnicki (author), Sierra College, Jennifer Skillen (editor), Sierra College, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


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