Ethical Civet, A View from the foothills

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

It’s been almost a year since my last visit to Ethiopia, after which I wrote the post, “Ethical civet a glimpse from the mountaintop“.  I must admit, when I returned home I felt overwhelmed, as it seemed the only way a model ethical  Civet farm could be established, was if I moved to Ethiopia, built it, and ran it myself. Much as I do enjoy a creative challenge, the task felt daunting.

Today the project feels a little less challenging and not as far off in the hypothetical distance. This shift is due mainly to the support I have received the past year from around the world and to a great degree from the natural perfume and incense communities.  A network is evolving, and I believe it could help carry this project to fruition.

Since writing that post, I have found an experienced Civet farmer, willing to work with me to establish a modern civet farm that will conform to our western standards of ethics and animal welfare. I plan to visit and speak with him in the next couple of months. It may lead to a model farm, or may not, but it is a step in the right direction. A successful project would greatly benefit the farmers, the wild and captive Civets, the local economy, and, I hope, bring awareness to bear on the shrinking natural habitats of Ethiopia. It would also guarantee an ethical source of pure and unadulterated civet products for perfume and medicine.

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Incentive to write this post today, is due in part to a link that indie perfumer Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus, posted regarding his use of my civet tincture in his perfume, and the negative response he received.  This makes for an ideal opportunity to recap and refresh, and share the project’s progress since then.

Our western boycotting of Civet production in Ethiopia over the past decades has yielded no positive results. It has had little effect on the captive Civet’s quality of life, and the native Ethiopian Civet population continues to decline. Since starting the boycott in the 70’s, after one of WSPA expose’s, no significant change in the treatment of captive Civets has evolved. I believe it has done more harm than good, and a new approach needs to be instituted to reverse the negative impact of the boycott and create a more ethical product, while preserving the native Civet population, guaranteeing a living wage for farmers and exporters, and slowing the loss of Ethiopia’s green spaces..

An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.
An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.

 

 

  • What the boycott did, was create a black market for civet products, where large international perfume and traditional medicine companies could purchase Civet paste and its derivatives, through foreign buyers hidden from public view.
  • It increased our reliance on chemical fragrance replacements which present their own set of negative side effects that impact us individually and globally.
  • Through lowering the demand, the boycott created a stasis in the price of civet paste, leaving international buyers to pit exporters against each other for the lowest possible price.

Today, the civet farmers often live in abject poverty with insufficient income from the animals to properly feed and care for the Civets or their families. They cannot afford medical attention for their families or veterinary care for their animals. They are simply in no position to institute or accommodate the extensive changes we are demanding from them. Many have abandoned the practice that has been a proud tradition in their family for generations.

In short, justified as we may feel, to indignantly boycott and suspend our financial support to the traditional and cruel treatment of Civets, I believe it was more of an emotional knee-jerk response on our part, and not a well thought out and responsible action. A boycott can be an appropriate response to affect change in some cases, but it is not a universal tool of political and economic advancement. In this case it was, I believe, a poor course of action that had no positive effect on any front and caused more damage than good.

With our boycott and the absence of market demand, the efforts of the government to modernize the industry over the years have encountered ongoing resistance from the farmers who have no incentive or anticipated return forthcoming from changing their traditional methods.

The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and human designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.
The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and humane designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.

The farmers are tired of being studied and researched. They need a market for their product.  Something researchers and government ministries cannot promise them. This kind of incentive and motivation can only be offered by us, the western buyers. Shall we do something about this? This is the only question there is.

I believe we need to admit we made a mistake in our reaction, learn from it, and take the time to properly address the problem in a way that is beneficial to all. In my opinion, when we have a solution that creates a win, win, win situation, we are on the right path. Instead of walking away from the problem, turning our backs and withdrawing our financial support, and hoping it will somehow force others to change, which it obviously hasn’t, let’s take action.

I propose working directly with the farmers, government agencies, local and foreign institutions of higher education, researchers, ecologists, architects, forestry experts, veterinarians, animal experts, and anyone else that can contribute to a healthy, ethical and thriving industry in a developing country. We have an obvious stalemate here, and someone has to take the first step to break it.

Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia
Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia

If one takes but a moment to contemplate the ethics and standards we choose to judge others by, we must also take the time to have a good look at ourselves. As many Ethiopians point out, we, in the western world, treat our domestic food animals with no higher ethics and no less cruelty than they treat their Civets. In fact, the time honoured art of animal husbandry is something we have completely abandoned in our rush to factory-produce animal meat by the ton and feed our growing Western population at a profit. Our own “back yard” is rife with examples of horrifying treatment of our food animals which most of us manage to ignore. Ethiopian domestic animals are highly valued on many levels and treated with much greater regard than we treat our “production” animals.

Though I don’t have a solution for our poor North American treatment of animals, and I know I can’t solve any of the world’s problems singlehandedly, I think I can take one small issue that calls to me, and see if I can improve it in some small way. And this is likely all any one of us can do. These posts, the Civet paste and tincture I sell in my shop, and my journey, are an invitation for others to join in, to share and engage in this project with me in any small way they like. Every click, every view, every sale and every share, adds momentum to change. Every conversation stimulated, whether for or against it, brings change closer.

We can’t sit back and wait for others to make the changes in our world. This passive approach only sets us up as victims of the system, leaving us spending more time complaining and pointing fingers at what is wrong, than doing anything to address the problems. We have much more power as individuals than we realize.

As the internet grows, and our technology advances, we are more empowered as global citizens than ever before. Today with the least amount of effort, we are able to create the greatest amount of change anywhere in the world. All it takes are a few well-chosen clicks of a mouse.

The big companies monitor and heed our every click. Our small choices colour the world’s markets and global trends. They even influence the political and economic tides around us. We can complain about this infringement of privacy, as most of us do, or we could use it to our benefit. Every time we click the mouse every time we purchase something, it is noted, recorded and taken into account. Every time we click we’re changing the world individually just a little bit. But what we don’t always see, is that the accumulative power of all these individual choices can be world-changing.

Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne's lab in Addis Ababa
Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne’s lab in Addis Ababa

You don’t need to be a perfumer, you don’t have to know what Civet smells like or ever want to smell it. You don’t even have to like perfume. All you need is the urge to do something to make the world a better place, to benefit someone other than yourself. A desire to contribute to something larger than yourself, and all it takes is a conscious click of the mouse, a tap on your phone.

If we clicked less on cute cat videos and games, lurked a bit less on Facebook, and asked ourselves how could we better use our time on our phones and computers, it would be a worthy act of awareness and self-improvement to change our surfing habits to more productive and creative expressions of our higher ideals. Our power nowadays is far beyond what we ever imagined.

So, I say, let’s support the farmers, let’s buy their products, work with them, and give them the means to create a new model from an outdated industry. Let’s not just wait for something to change on its own. If it hasn’t happened till now, it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

Let’s stop the decline in the Civet population and perhaps even take a little step in saving the disappearing forests and green spaces of Ethiopia. We live in a tiny, lush, apothecary’s garden in a vast galaxy that provides us all our food, fragrance and medicine. Let’s all take care of it. Believe me, Ethiopia is not as distant as we like to think. Let’s pay the farmers more for their product, not less as we have till now, not because they’re asking but because it’s the way it should be.

Let’s give this ancient and rarest of Nature’s treasures the value and esteem that it deserves, and give the farmers the rewards and return they should see for their efforts regardless of what country they live in, or how poor their economy is. I have no doubt we will quickly see our animal welfare standards manifest on the other end. But, nothing will happen till we are willing to work with each other.

Dan
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12 Comments

  1. Hi Dan,

    Are you aware of a recent article published about the viability of non-invasive collection of civet gland secretions in the wild? Apparently, it can be done! Here is the link: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/265194851_Collection_of_African_Civet_Civettictis_civetta_perineal_gland_secretion_from_naturally_scent-marked_sites

    This seems like an even better idea than farming. It would mean buying wilderness that is populated by civets and leaving it wild. They make regular returns to redeposit scent on their preferred locations. As a consumer, I’d gladly pay extra for perfumes from this source. I found the article after noticing that all my favorite vintage perfumes contain civet, then reading how they were treated and — like you — wondering if there is some other way. Good luck, and best regards, C.

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    1. Hi Channa. No, I will check it out, thank you! If viable it would provide a much better alternative I agree. Much less impact on the Civet population, less ethical stresses, (for me), to deal with, and could employ more of the local population which is always a good thing.

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    2. Hi Chana.
      Yes, I have seen that article, and you are right, it would be a smarter way to go about collecting from the Civets. Less stress on the animals and the environment, less stress around ethics, (for me). I don’t think the concept of wild collection has been pursued beyond this study yet, (2011). It could be due to a lack of projected financial return, or just because no one has taken the concept from the academic realm to that of business. Or it just got put on the back burner somewhere. However, that’s not to say I shouldn’t contact the authors and see if there has been taken any further activity beyond theory and if there is enough local interest and support to partner in such a venture.
      I will send out some inquiries and post any progress here on the blog if and when it happens.
      Let’s cross our fingers and pray to the gods of commerce for a smile.
      Warm regards
      Dan

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  2. Dan, being we are cut from the same cloth and all, I’m 100% with you on your Civet thoughts. I will be buying more civet paste (well, all my civet paste) from you down the road as I started working on a civet perfume oil line since we last talked. And on that note – I miss you like crazy! Did you get my last email?

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    1. Mybad. I have 2 emails for you in my drafts!!. Apologies dear Cher. A response is on the way. I’m still getting grounded here in my new location, which is no excuse for such tardiness.. The oil of Civet sounds yummy. I will strive to stay in your good books so as to receive a sample when it’s done.

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  3. Thanks for such a thought-provoking couple of posts on this. My initial response to the idea of civet collection was pretty visceral — as I guess a lot of perfumers’ working solely with botanicals is — and yet, once I got past that, I agree with all your arguments for an ethical industry. Bravo. I’m going to order a gram 🙂

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  4. Dan, is the Civet killed in the process of making perfume & medicine ? What part of the Civet is used ? I don’t understand this .

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    1. Hi Forest. No the animal is not killed. The part used is the paste which is produced in a perineal gland, and squeezed out, and scooped out every week to 2 weeks. The animals use it to mark their territory. The traditional living conditions on the Civet farms, as well as the primitive methods they use to capture them in the wild are terrible though. There are some informative reports in my earlier post-Ethical Civet a glimpse from the mountaintop” there is a link to it at the bottom of this post.

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