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Genets in Africa

Scientific name: Genetta spp

On a crisp winter's night, the open Land Rover came around the bend beneath a large spreading Umbrella Thorn. The tracker's spot lamp picked up some movement on a horizontal branch and we edged slowly forward. Suddenly, there in the light, was a beautiful cat-like carnivore, spotted all over with a glorious banded tail. Time stood still as a Large-spotted Genet peered down calmly at us with its radiant green eyes. Then, in a flash, it was gone. A solitary hunter in the African night.

Along with their civet relatives, genets are regarded as the most primitive and ancient of living carnivores. Fossil evidence suggest that these animals have changed little in the past 40-50 million years. Modern-day lions, leopards, hyenas, bears and wolves are thought to have evolved from a common ancestor which - in skeleton and dental structure - closely resembled a genet.

What the Genets eat

The genet is classified as a carnivore, but it actually is omnivorous and will eat whatever is most available. This can be small mammals (especially rodents, shrews and bats), birds, and their eggs, frogs, millipedes, centipedes, scorpions and various fruit. With rodents, roosting birds and reptiles being favoured. Such prey is caught after a patient stalk and ambush, then killed with a bite to the head or neck.

Genets have the reputation of being wasteful killers, often eating just the head or breast of their prey.

Where to find the Genets

Several types of genets occur in East Africa, including the forest species. The servaline genet(G.tigrina),large spotted genet (G.genetta)are all widespread in Uganda with the latter two generally occurring in more lightly wooded d areas than the former , and sometimes observed on game drives in the Semiliki Wildlife Reserve. A West African species, the giant forest genet (G.victiriae), has been recorded in Maramagambo Forest in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

How to identify a Genet

Genets are slender, short-legged, long-tailed carnivores belonging to the Viverid family, which also includes the mongooses. The two most frequently encountered species are the Large-spotted Genet (also known as Blotched or Rusty-spotted) and the Small-spotted Genet (also known as the Common Genet).
With their black and white coats, genets are striking animals -beautifully patterned, with long banded tails. They are among the more commonly seen nocturnal animals.

The Large-spotted Genet favours well-wooded habitats in the south and eastern parts of Africa, while the Small-spotted prefers drier country in the west and north. In some places, the range of the two species overlap. Most field guides indicate that the Small-spotted genet has a white-tipped tail, while the Large-spotted has a dark tip. This may not be a foolproof distinguishing feature, however, and a better way of distinguishing the latter species is by the rusty-coloured centres to its large black spots.

The small-spotted genet, is recognized by a prominent dorsal crest running from shoulder to tail. Its spots are round and elongated. The forest genet lacks a dorsal crest and has a coat with spaced-out, elongated spots. The large-spotted genet has a smaller dorsal crest than its small-spotted relative. Similar to the civet, the genet produces secretions conveying messages about sexual, social or territorial behavior.

When angry, frightened or injured, the genet can squirt a foul-smelling substance that deters enemies. Genets also have retractable claws adapted to climbing and catching prey.


Genets are mainly nocturnal but are often spotted during the day in the rainy season. Although considered arboreal, they spend much time on the ground hunting prey and taking shelter in escarpments and rocky outcrops. Genets can squeeze their slender, flexible bodies through any opening larger than their head. They also climb trees to hunt nesting or roosting birds.

Adult genets are solitary except during periods of courtship or when a female is accompanied by her young. A female may have up to two litters a year with two to four young in each. Kittens are born in a burrow; their eyes and ears are shut at birth and do not open for about 10 days. They receive their first solid food at about 6 weeks, but they are nursed a few weeks longer.

Genets mature in 2 years and live about 8 years in the wild. Much longer life spans have been recorded in captivity.

Female genets are thought to be territorial, as they generally return to the same area if captured and released, while males do not.

Predators and Threats

Some genets have adapted to cultivated areas and human settlements, where they have developed a taste for poultry. In these cases, genets are hunted as pests.

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