On Good Friday I gave you this object and asked ‘Any idea what this skull belongs to?‘
Given the levels of pedantism on the Internet, I’m surprised that no-one said ‘the Horniman Museum‘, which would have been a correct answer to the question, since this specimen was bought in 1936 from the German natural history supply company Schlüter and Mass and it therefore belongs to the Museum.
However, you all clearly knew I meant belonged, since you did a great job of working out which species this skull came from.
Jake immediately ruled out the large British native carnivores (Fox and Badger) and several questions later had Jamie Revell hot on the trail, only to be pipped to the post by David Craven. Kudos also goes to Carlos Grau and Gina who both came very close.
This skull belonged to an African Civet Civettictis civetta (Schreber, 1776), which is a large viverrid from – you guessed it – Africa.
These animals are generally better known for their other end, which has a perineal gland used in scent marking. This gland secretes a waxy substance called ‘civet’ or ‘musk’ which the African Civet rubs on trees and rocks to communicate with other African Civets.
The ability of this substance to retain a strong smell has been known for a long time and it has been used as a traditional base for perfume for centuries.
“Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination”
Shakespeare, c.1606 – King Lear (Act IV, Sc. 6)
Not that it’s a sweet smell by any means – rather it has a pleasant musky smell after it has been processed to obtain civetone (although before processing it simply stinks).
I personally wouldn’t enjoy the task of ‘milking’ waxy gunk from a gland situated between the anus and the genitals of a feisty, sharp-toothed carnivore. But I’m sure the experience is far more unpleasant for the African Civet being ‘milked’.