A number of species of civet, Civettictis civetta of Ethiopia, and Viverra zibetha and Viverricula indica of India, Malaya, Indochina, and Indonesia, can yield civet oil. Most civet is however produced by civet farms in Africa, where the secreted oil is taken from the pouches of caged animals once a week. African civets typically produce three to four grams of civet each week. In 2000, civet sold for about five hundred dollars per kilogram.
Civet is a soft, almost liquid material. It is pale yellow when fresh, darkening in the light and becoming salve-like in consistency. Its odor is strong, even putrid as a pure substance, but once diluted it is pleasantly and sweetly aromatic. It is prepared for use in perfumery by solvent extraction to yield either a tincture (10 or 20 percent), an absolute, or a resinoid.
The chemical in civet oil that gives it most of its distinctive odor is civetone, at a concentration of between 2.5 and 3.4 percent. The oil also includes various other ketones such as cyclopentadecanone, cyclohexadecanone, cycloheptadecanone, and 6-cis-cycloheptadecenone. The animal scent is reinforced by the presence of smaller amounts of indole and skatole, which in African civet are present at a concentration of about 1 percent.
Civet has a distinctly different odor from musk and was formerly a versatile ingredient of fine fragrances. It is being displaced by 5-cyclohexadecen-1-one (Ambretone) which is more easily synthesized.
The USA does not allow civets to be imported, as the species can transmit the SARS virus. The USA does however permit the importation of civet oil, as long as it has been treated to ensure it is noninfectious.
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