Ethical Civet-a Glimpse from the Mountaintop

 

English: African civet
English: African civet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My apologies to all for the long silence. Especially to Jane, Genie, Theo, Hassan and all those who I had hoped to visit in London on the way back. After 5 weeks, 50 hours of flights and delays, over a month of sleeping on cots and floors, I am home, in my own sweet bed, sheepskin and velvet, purring cats, and it’s good being home again.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This was my second trip to Ethiopia following a winding trail, on a quest for “Ethical Civet”. An ethically produced, and cruelty free, ancient, medicine and fragrance material. A classic ingredient in traditional perfume making for centuries.  I have hunted, researched, emailed and phoned.  Flown, driven and walked many miles, and met many dead ends over the course of the past 4 years to see what could be done, and what has been done to humanize the industry for our use, and find out if it is at all possible.

A civet in Gabon
A civet in Gabon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The civet Civettictis-civetta–  Called “Zbad” in Arabic and other local languages, is an ancient symbol and totem animal of Ethiopia. Considered by many the only type of Civet to yield a high quality perfume ingredient. A name  always uttered in the same fragrant and descriptive sentence that has defined Ethiopia for thousands of years,

“Frankincense, Myrrh and Civet”.

Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco ...
Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco in Ethiopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Said to be one of the gifts The Queen of Sheba brought King Solomon in their day, and thought by some to be the third rare, fragrant gift the “Magi” brought the baby Jesus, (ZBD and not ZHB, Civet and not Gold),  each often worth more than its weight in gold.  Zbad is also used on occasion as a word meaning  a “Gift” in the old testament. Food for thought.

*****

 Many have inquired about sourcing ethically produced Civet paste and absolute.  Before I go any further, let me say, ethical Civet paste is possible, BUT, to the best of my knowledge, is NOT available yet, and it will not happen on its own. Not to our western ethical and humane standards. If you would like to buy the next best thing, Civet paste that will support the development of a sustainable and cruelty free industry, please look at the bottom of this post.

As far as I can see, humanization and modernization can only come to be, through the initiative and ongoing involvement of outside interests working directly with the animals, and in tandem with government branches and farmers. It will only happen through our involvement.

   Though a western ideal that conflicts with local culture and traditions of Civiculture, it would not only benefit us, but directly benefit the animals, Ethiopia’s rapidly shrinking forests and natural habitats, the traditional Civet farmers, and the local economy. 

Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014
Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014. In Professor Dagne’s lab, getting ready to make a perfume absolute.

Standing atop a peak past Bako in the Oromia province this last journey, I could see a “Model” Civet farm in the distance.  It was a possibility glimmering on the horizon. I could also see the many obstacles along the way. It would be a challenge to create such a thing.  Not something any one person could reach on their own without substantial resources, commitment, local and foreign support.

A large structure housing spacious and modern cages.  A place to bring responsibly trapped and tagged Civets from local forests, for a 6-8 month period of research and collection of musk. An opportunity for researchers to study them in captivity and in their natural habitat.

The facility worked with conservation, forestry, legislative, and research sections of government and universities to study, preserve and conserve rapidly shrinking green spaces and wildlife habitats, while practicing  humane alternatives to traditional Civeculture methods, and developing the highest quality export products.

African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afr...
African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afrikanische Zibetkatze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Civets are traditionally kept in tiny tubelike wooden cages they can barely move in, for life. Poorly cared for and traumatically relieved of their musk every 9-12 days. (Many do not survive the harsh trapping methods or the first extraction of musk). The farmers are so poor they usually cannot feed the animals properly, and most can’t afford medical help for the animals let alone their own families. Their living conditions are indeed abhorant and cruel.

This model farm had modern veterinary and laboratory facilities, operated as a center that could provide instruction, subsidised cages, food, humanely trapped and tagged Civets, supervision and veterinary services.  It had its own lab where raw Civet paste was tested for quality and  Civetone levels, and processed into absolute for the perfume industry. A side of the business and a revenue, that till now has always been in the hands of foreign “developed” countries.

As an ethical, natural and cruelty free perfume ingredient, it could generate much more income for the farmers and the country. It could be a model of a model farm, and duplicated in different areas of the country where Civet farmers and co-ops were already established. Answering to the western world, with the power to monitor and confirm ethical and cruelty free practices, it could transform established practices to the benefit of all.

*****

There were a couple of other disturbing things I noticed while I was up on that mountaintop. Ethiopia’s green spaces, wildlife and old growth forest were quickly disappearing. Eaten up daily for lumber, charcoal cooking fuel, low yield, ox tilled agriculture, and grazed to the ground by millions of goats, cows and sheep. There was no roadkill on the highway, an occasional dog, but no wild animals left to cross the road. There was an odd silence that way.

 A joke.Why did the Civet cross the road? It didn’t, there weren’t any Civets left.

Our planet is a very small garden in a big universe, it belongs to all of us. We are all affected by every tree felled  for charcoal or agriculture, every animal that suffers or loses its habitat, every green-space is our responsibility. Poverty, disease and strife anywhere in our world is our business. It is our world. All of us. Space, borders and ownership, all distinctions are illusions. We are born from one living dynamic organism of which we are all intrinsically a receiving and contributing part, we are woven in to the fabric of this planet wherever we are. We can’t afford to look the other way.

*****

 Due to the connections and experience of my most gracious host, and co-conspirator, the esteemed Professor Dagne, of Addis Ababa University, we were able to accomplish much more than we had hoped for this time round. The professors enthusiasm, contacts, knowledge of the of the land, physically, historically and bureaucratically , yielded an abundance of new information and resources, which will take me some time to digest and share here. So bear with me, this might take a few posts.

An antique Ox horn, used to transport Civet paste to market and abroad. Courtesy Prof. Dagne.
An antique Ox horn, age unknown. A traditional vessel used  to  collect Civet paste.  Courtesy Prof. Dagne.

The culture of keeping Civets in Ethiopia, the techniques and practices used to produce the best and the most Civet paste from the animals, are still cruel, primitive and truly barbaric by our standards. They are also deeply entrenched traditions handed down from father to son for generations.   Based as much in culture and religion as superstition, they conflict directly, and at every turn, with our ethical standards for the treatment of animals. To gain a better understanding of why this is, here is an excellent study.

The Cultural Logic of Civiculture in Ethiopia

  Below, is one of the most influential, damaging and accurate reports done on Civet farming in Ethiopia. Written by  Mike Pugh, a representative of the WSPA in 1998, it is not the earliest expose’, but gives an idea of what precipitated a worldwide boycott by western consumers and sent the perfume companies into subterfuge and denial. On the bright side these reports also resulted in some excellent studies through the University of Addis Ababa, and ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ethiopian government to reform and modernize these practices.

Civet-farming, An Ethiopian Investigation-wspa-1998

 Our western need for ethical and cruelty free animal products came head to head with the beliefs, methods and traditions of Civet farmer families. We have been at a stalemate ever since. It has been a lose, lose situation. While chemical replacements for Civet absolute are available and used to varying degree in the perfume industry, they too have their shortcomings.  I hope a trend towards natural perfumery and chemical free lifestyles may lead us back to establishing ethical and sustainable sources for all our fragrant and herbal needs.

Sustainable-Utilisation-of-the-African-Civet-Civettictis-civetta-in-Ethiopia

 Regardless of government efforts, directives and incentives, it has been difficult for traditional Civet farmers to change their ways. Deeply ingrained traditions, societal and cultural norms and deep poverty in these communities all add to their inability to establish new and modern practices.  It has been challenging for local agencies and regional governments to facilitate and support farmers through a transition to modern methods. They haven’t given up, but could definitely use a little help and support.

New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.
New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested with Civet farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.  Some farmers do use them.

Due to our boycott of unethically produced Civet products, many traditional Civet farmers abandoned Civiculture to pursue less challenging  markets such as Coffee and Chaat. I don’t believe this really solved the problem.  There are still no winners here, not human and not animal. The Civets that are still farmed, supply a grey market in China and Korea, (I assume a backdoor to the large French Perfume companies who don’t want any direct link to unethical practices), and  likely do not enjoy their captivity to any greater degree as a result of our boycott. I believe we may have made things worse. We pointed out the problems, but we were not there with the needed solutions and support.

  Similar ethical issues are mirrored in Indonesia where captured Civets are kept in tiny cages and fed a diet of mainly coffee beans to excrete the very lucrative and lately famous Kopi Luwak Coffee. I haven’t studied this phenomenon in any great depth, but it appears to me it presents identical ethical issues around the treatment of the animals.  A very elusive animal, this “Ethical Civet”. My hope is, that if an ethical model can be developed for Ethiopia’s Civet farms, it can be duplicated, or legislated and enforced in Indonesia. Win, win. Win, win. Win. English: Kopi luwak, coffee seeds from faeces ...

Through our continued efforts the past years, our failures and successes, Professor  Dagne and I may have  an opportunity to initiate something that decades of western boycotts and  petitioning against animal cruelty have not been able to do. There is talk of setting up and operating a “Model Farm” that would involve both local and foreign interests. It’s only talk at this point, but I want to put it out there in the community, and see if there is in fact any real and tangible interest in ethical Civet products.

 

Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.
Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.

I believe we can do some good here, all of us. I believe that doing some good, is what is really called for. Our wild medicinals, aromatics, animals and plants are threatened all over the world. We have to each do what we can to preserve our natural bounty before it is too late.   I believe that greening and tending, healing the farthest reaches of our world is only as far as the mouse on our desk. A click on our phone.

I worry that Nature in Ethiopia is not doing too well, though it may not yet seem obvious. I worry we are losing the old growth forests all over our world, the havens for medicinal and aromatic plants, indigenous species, animals, insects and the Civets of our world.  I worry that  the green regenerative oh so fertile and womanly spirit of Ethiopia is slowly losing ground. That we will only notice our loss when it is too late. And it will be Our loss when it happens.

Needless to say, we all know there are many things in the world that need to change. Sometimes we wait for others to  change them, and sometimes, we see an opportunity to change them ourselves. None of this can happen without global community support. Without conscious consumerism and individual activism. Nothing will change without many voices speaking up. Without your voice.

  I did purchase a quantity of Civet paste this last trip. It is not an ethical Civet product, but, that being said, the one factor that will determine viability of change in the industry, is whether there is enough western interest in ethical Civet products. This is gauged by our willingness to financially invest in the concept of ethics and sustainability. It is our interest, expressed in our western currency that makes and shapes the world around us. If we can’t show them that we are offering more than our criticism or advice, there will be no incentive to develop ethical Civiculture in Ethiopia. Our boycott of Civet products has proven detrimental to all involved. It is time for a different approach to the problem. It is not going away on its own.
I am not talking about billion dollar corporations investing here, but about individual activism. You and I and many more like us that want to put in our vote on what kind of world reflects our values. What kind of world we want to see and manifest. The power of many individual voices and small purchases is absolutely world changing.
So, you and anyone you know that might want a say in rectifying this ethical stalemate, are invited to show the Ethiopian government, farmers and Civet industry, the world really, that we do care and are willing to do something about it.
I have priced the Civet paste at $10.00 a gram, on Parr with the lowest retail price I could find. Every gram sold is a statement that change is possible.
It is pure and high quality, authentic and genuine. It’s about as close as anyone can get to actually collecting paste from a Civet’s butt in person. Anyone who has tried to get real Civet paste knows it is not easy. Between adulterants, chemical and aromatic substitutes, fillers, fakes and unscrupulous middlemen, it can take years to find the real deal or discern the differences in quality.

Please support this project with your “likes”, shares or purchases, your comments or ratings. You can reblog or repost, or link back to it through your own blog or website, and please do pass it on to anyone you think might have an interest. If there is no interest, market or demand for an ethical alternative, no input from the public, it will not be possible, and in my opinion this unfortunate and sad situation will never change. Without our intervention, I believe we will all end up facing a great loss.

 You can also contact me directly at dnriegler@gmail.com

Let me know what you think.

Warmly

Dan

http://projectluwaksg.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/caged-civets-in-vietnam/

 

 

 

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