I have finally put together an Animalic/Musk sampler. The interest in animal-sourced musk samples has grown steadily in the shop and the release of this new product is a perfect opportunity to continue my discourse on the ethical issues inherent in Civet and other animal musks and what we can do to facilitate better stewardship of our animals and botanical resources globally.
Currently, the main animal musks used in perfumery and traditional medicine are sourced from Civet, Deer, Beaver, Whales, Muskrat and Hyrax. The 2 musks that are ethically challenging are Civet and Deer Musk. With the use of Civet musk, issues of animal welfare are glaring and in the case of Deer musk, the species is at risk. The latter I do not sell, the former I have spent years trying to set up a more ethical system.
From the Queen of Sheba to Shalimar
Civet Musk is one of the rarest fragrance materials. It has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine and as an exotic perfume ingredient and fixative. It lends depth, dimension, lift and a note of erotic urgency to perfume compositions. I can attest that it makes my heart skip at every sniff. I find it addictive, though it’s not to everyone’s liking. Said to have been one of the gifts the Queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon, Civet is a traditional aphrodisiac and thought to arouse desire in both sexes.
In North Africa and Arabia, Civet paste and products containing Civet are used to treat hormonal imbalances associated with excess menstruation, acne and hair loss. This is a function most animalics share. It is a staple of Chinese and Korean traditional medicine and found in Unani, Islamic and Ayurvedic pharmacopeias.
The African Civet-Civettictis civetta
The Civet, reminiscent of a cross between a mongoose, a dog and a raccoon, is of the family Viverridae. Solitary scavengers, active mainly at night, both male and female Civets have a perineal gland that generates a greasy paste used to transmit sexual, social and territorial signals. This paste is collected and processed into a perfume absolute or tincture. The tincture has the unusual property of evolving aromatically with time and producing deep, sweet floral notes. Given the raw animalic intensity of the fresh paste, this is quite remarkable. Working with Civet products hones one’s patience and imagination.
Issues of ethics and animal welfare
There has been much controversy around traditional methods of keeping Civets for their musk, and rightly so.
The Western world has boycotted the use of Civet in the fragrance industry for decades due to issues of ethics and animal welfare. Though (As any Civet farmer will quickly tell you), our Western food animals are treated no better. That being said, there is no excuse for the mistreatment of animals in any industry or country. This is a problem that needs to be addressed on a global scale.
Ignoring the problem has solved nothing
After extensive research, numerous visits with Ethiopian farmers, middlemen and exporters of civet paste, I am convinced we have done more harm than good with our passive approach.
By turning our back and withdrawing our financial support from the industry we have increased the poverty of the traditional farmers, leaving them even fewer resources to effect change. We have added one more obstacle to an already struggling economy and have created a black market and back door for large corporations to continue using Civet products unseen by the public eye. Many of the animals in captivity suffer just the same now as before our boycott, and the market is rife with adulterated products.
A proactive approach
My vision of change is different than our Western stance of boycotting as a tool for change. Mainly because 60 years of boycotting Civet products in perfume has done little to improve conditions for the animals or the people involved in civiiculture.
Bringing back the incentive for change
I believe that only through our active engagement as concerned and invested Western consumers can this unhappy situation be rectified.
Our interest, involvement and financial support can facilitate change in the industry.
If there is a strong market for this product, an ethical and profitable way will be found or created to make it happen. If we maintain our passive approach, this situation will continue as is. Rather than ignoring the problem, we need to embrace it. In essence, we have removed the incentive to improve and modify the industry and in my opinion, nothing will change until this is rectified.
The world is our garden
The issues with Civet, (and Deer Musk), products are indicative of a much larger problem. We are losing our natural aromatics and medicinals all over the world through our own mismanagement and lack of involvement. Collectively we have a powerful voice. One that can change the world if we so choose. If we don’t make changes now, many of our precious resources, (such as our Frankincense trees), will be extinct in only a handful of decades. The more of us are involved, the sooner we will see change.
We have everything we need to change the world
With the advent of the internet, each and every one of us can instantaneously have an impact on global issues. Individually it may not seem like much, but collectively, we are a Superpower. As consumers, we are responsible for everything that happens in the world of industry and commerce. They exist only to serve us. Without our needs, our voices and our market demand they would serve no one and cease to exist. In our capitalistic world of mass marketing and consumerism, every click of a mouse is noted, tallied and used to direct our markets and shape our industries. The power to change the world is collectively in our hands.
Eventually someone will step up
In our world, the most powerful and effective incentive to change and evolve is financial gain. If there is a financial incentive, a healthy market, through our increased western demand, (our purchasing power), for high quality and ethically produced Civet products, I believe the farmers and the government of Ethiopia will have the incentive and resources to modernize their practices and meet our ethical standards. Investors will see new market opportunities and step up. It may take a few more years, but I am a patient man. I have no doubt we will design and implement a more ethical industry model centred around proper care of the environment and the well-being of the animals. This though is but a first step. Ultimately we will design a profitable system of collecting the paste in the wild with zero impact on animals and ecology. This will not only take the stress off the animals but will help support remote rural communities. In my opinion, no wild animal should be caged. But we have to start somewhere and unless a market can be created, nothing will change.
We can find a better way
The more voices that can join in, the sooner we will transform the industry. Even if you have moral objections to the use of animal products, sitting strong in your conviction and doing nothing about it does little to effect change. Trying to force the world to not use animal products through passive means does not, as we can see here, provide a solution.
The use of animal products in our food, cosmetics, traditional medicine and perfumes has been with us since the dawn of time. Rather than working to eliminate animal products from commerce, we could focus on finding ethical systems and solutions that honour the planet, the people and the animals. At home and abroad.
Talk is not enough
Over the past 6 years, I have visited Civet farms, spoken with Civet farmers and exporters about modernizing the industry to meet our standards of ethics and animal welfare. Their enthusiasm and willingness to work with the Western market are pretty much unconditional. However, there is not yet enough interest or market-demand to meet them halfway.
In Northern Kenya, I have an ongoing conversation about involving the women of the Samburu tribe in collecting Civet paste from the wild as an extra source of income. But, without the presence of a market for Civet products, the concept can be taken no further.
Contribute to the momentum
Please feel free to share this post or to share your opinion in the comments below. If you are inspired to participate or contribute in any way, let me know. If you would like to keep tabs on the evolution of this project you can click the sidebar link and follow this blog by email. You will be updated as new information becomes available.
A special thank you goes out to all those customers and artisan perfumers that have supported this project over the years, and an especially warm one to Mandy Aftel from Aftelier Perfumes for her ongoing encouragement.
Interesting and very useful article, 🙏
how can i help? i never used these items, but what the heck if i can help someone by using their items show me how any way how can i help?
I totally agree with all you say. It is true boycotting and banning do not make it go away just go undeground and worse. If we have the end result of positive result for the Civet and Environment we ca then take the next step. Focus on what we want not what we don’t want
Exactly Dee! Well said.
I absolutely agree! The arbitrary CITES rules and legislation passed by those living in ivory towers does not consider livlihoods of the local people who, when given adequate information and means have the highest motivation to protect those resources.
We need to preserve these precious natural treasures- civet, musk deer, agar wood, frankincense, elemi, rosewood, spikenard, etc…. I would LOVE to see responsibly, humanely, sustainably sourced scents/oils that would help support local communities. Boycotts usually only damage the poor. The affluent, greedy, and chronically short-sighted will almost always find a way to enrich themselves in the vacuum wake of hastily legislated kneejerk boycots.
What do you mean by: “collecting Civet paste from the wild”? Because as far as I know, it can be collected; I know that deer musk can be wiped or scratched off stones which are put by these animals for territory marking.
I disagree with your approach to keep buying musk because you simply support it.
Due all the respect. Itamar.
Deer musk is collected in pods from their underbelly. They are removed, usually after the deer is trapped and killed.
Civet paste, in the other hand, can be collected in the wild in very small amounts from tree trunks where the animals leave their mark.
It is an awkward and low yield process and will not become a viable industry untill there is enough of a market and an interest in the product. I respectfully disagree with your approach and opinion. I at least am involved and engaged in solving the problem.