Have you heard of civet coffee but not sure what all the fuss is about? In this article we lay out the precise reasons why we are campaigning for an end to civet coffee, and what you can do to help.
What is civet coffee and where did it come from?
Civet coffee (also known as 'kopi luwak' in Indonesia, and 'weasel coffee' in Vietnam) is coffee that has been partially digested by the civet, a nocturnal cat-like animal native throughout southeast Asia. It is said that civet coffee was first discovered in the forests of Indonesia 300 years ago, during the time of Dutch colonial rule, when local farmers were forbidden to sample coffee from their own plantations.
Civets were known to naturally select the ripest coffee cherries for consumption as part of their varied omnivorous diet of fruits, plant matter, and small animals. Farmers, curious about this new crop, turned to civet scat to collect coffee beans for personal consumption. When they Dutch eventually found out that coffee was being produced via civet poop, they also sampled it and declared it had a finer taste than non-digested coffee. However, what once was a rare find upon the forest floor, has now become an entire industry built on exploitation.
In the early 2000’s, civet coffee was featured on the ‘Oprah Winfrey show’ and in the Hollywood film ‘the Bucket List’, making it an international sensation. Intrigued by its apparent rarity, unique production, and exclusive status, consumer demand for civet coffee grew exponentially. Soon, civet coffee was on sale in luxury department stores including ‘Harrods’, and civet coffee tours lined the tourist trail of Bali, as is still the case today.
Just ten years later and civet coffee is now produced on an industrial scale throughout southeast Asia where civets are captured on mass for caged force-fed civet coffee production. No longer restricted to it's place of origin in Indonesia, civet coffee is now produced in Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India, Thailand, and southern China - all countries where civets are naturally found.
What is the driving force behind civet coffee's popularity?
The primary market driver of civet coffee is tourism. Civet coffee is marketed across southeast Asia as a regional delicacy associated with high economic and social status. Curated to show the bean to cup production of civet coffee, civet coffee tours includes coffee plants, caged and somtimes drugged civets, and hundreds of thousands of annual tourists, each sampling civet coffee and securing its high demand and popular status.
For domestic tourists, civet coffee entices clientele with disposable income and exclusive taste. For international tourists, civet coffee offers an allure of the exotic at a more affordable price that can otherwise be found outside of Asia.
One cup of civet coffee sold in the United States of America and Europe for example, can reach prices of up to $50 per cup. In southeast Asia, one cup of civet coffee can be purchased for an average of $5, and so many international tourists want to try it at a fraction of the price it's available in their own countries. This simply adds to the "once in a lifetime experience" associated with this cruel beverage.
Is civet coffee all its crapped up to be?
Civet coffee's popularity has been secured by consistent yet false advertisement as the most unique and rare coffee in the world.
As integral seed dispersers and germinators with specialist digestive processes, it is often clamed that it is the civets' unique digestive enzymes that alter the physical properties of the coffee bean. Yet this claim has been widely debated and research has even revealed that humans can produce digested coffee with the same structural characteristics as civet coffee, so civets are not unique in their ability to change coffee.
How can a product be the most rare in the world when it's global market value is now expected to reach an estimated $10.9billion USD by 2030? The math simply does not add up.
Whilst we know that civet coffee is produced by caged civets throughout the civet's natural range, the industry is also saturated with fake products. For many tourists, the chances are that the civet coffee they purhcase is either regular coffee labelled as civet coffee, or it's caged produced civet coffee labelled as "wild". Civet coffee authentication methods are known to be unreliable and poorly applied.
What is the scale of the civet coffee industry?
The exact scale of the civet coffee industry is difficult to surmise due to the entrepreneurial nature of production and the rates of uptake in countries across southeast Asia. In Vietnam for example, research has shown that many registered civet coffee farms operate illegally, holding an excess of the permitted number of civets including endangered species. In some cases, up to 300 animals have been documented in one farm, and so the number of civets producing civet coffee per year is likely to reach into the tens of thousands across southeast Asia.
What is the true cost of civet coffee?
The true cost of civet coffee is often hidden from view to tourists and international customers who don't see the far reaching impacts that a cup of civet coffee has and how they are part of that commodity chain. However, it is the health and wellbeing of civets, humans, and the wider environment that are the true cost of civet coffee.
The civet coffee industry is an animal welfare nightmare
Civet coffee farms do not attempt to meet the individual needs of their captive animals. Civets live in rows of stacked cages which are small, dirty, noisy, and crowded. As nocturnal, solitary animals, close proximity to other animals, and lack of spaces to hide for respite, results in high rates of stereotypic behaviour including pacing and self mutilation. Many suffer from loss of sight as exposure to the sun damaged their eyes.
Fed a diet either exclusively or mostly of coffee, farmed civets suffer from caffeine toxicity, malnutrition, and psychosis. The life expectancy of coffee producing civets is less than two years, a far cry from the 20 years that civets can live when housed in high welfare zoo settings.
Civet capture methods are also highly dangerous. In Indonesia civets are often captured with the aid of dogs, which puts both dogs and civets at risk of significant injuries. Across much of southeast Asia however, snares are the more popular method used for capture.
Made from wire, snares are a cheap method of indiscriminate hunting. The wire is designed to tighten around the limb or neck of an animal who walks through it, which causes horrific injuries and prolonged suffering. Often animals will sever their own limbs in an attempt to escape, or starve to death prior to being retrieved by poachers. Those that survive, often have severe injuries from their ordeal. Snare injuries are well documented in civet coffee facilities as are self mutilation injuries and burns to their feet caused by standing in their own urine.
Civet coffee production carries a frightening disease risk
The conditions within civet coffee farms are reminiscent of the wild animal markets responsible for disease spill-over events such as SARS and COVID-19. In fact, it was civets farmed for meat that were the vectors of the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic in China, a global disease outbreak that killed 774 people and resulted in the mass slaughter of more than 10,000 civets.
Not only are the conditions in civet coffee farms ripe for disease emergence, but the production process itself relies on the handling of civet faeces and other bodily fluids. Civet faeces are collected in trays that hang below each cage, and the coffee beans are picked and cleaned by hand.
No biosecurity has been recorded for civet coffee farming. Wild civets are known to bite and scratch when approached and their stools can become contaminated with blood, a sign of acute physical stress.
Handling of stressed, sick, and injured civets, combined with the hand processing of civet faeces and other bodily fluids, is putting farmers, their families, and the local environment at high risk of disease transmission. Tourists are often encouraged to handle civet scat as part of the civet coffee tour experience, and can hold, pet, and have photographs taken with wild civets. Not only do these close contact encounters risk disease transmission, but the sharing of photographs on social media further promotes the hype surrounding this bizaar and dangerous industry.
Civet coffee holds secret conservation impacts
Overall, little attention has been paid to the conservation impacts of civet coffee owing to the fact that the most popular species to be farmed is the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Common palm civets are not listed as endangered, however, their population numbers are declining throughout their range, a trend which is exacerbated by the growing civet coffee industry.
Palm civets are commonly captured from the wild without legal permits and civet coffee farms across southeast Asia are used as cover to smuggle protected species into the illegal pet and wild meat industries. Other species are also victim of indiscriminate snaring for civet coffee because it is not known what species will walk though them.
One example of the impacts that civet coffee is having on endangered species is that of the Owston’s civet (Chrotogale owstoni), a species that conservationists state is facing “impending extinction”. Their last remaining stronghold is restricted to a small area of Vietnam’s Annamite mountain range- a stronghold that lies at the epicentre of the civet coffee trade. Flanked by civet coffee farms, tours, restaurants and markets, the Owston’s civet now faces a significant threat from increased rates of snaring, many of which are set to supply the tourism industry.
It is clear to see that the civet coffee industry is putting profit over the health and wellbeing of animals, people, and the planet. Where civet coffee was once a rare and low impact commodity, it's industrial scale expansion across southeast Asia is now endangering animal welfare, human health, and conservation. That is why, we are calling for an end to industrial civet coffee farming and focussing our attention on the largest driver to it's persistance: tourism.
The fewer tourists that entertain civet coffee tourism, and the more who demand an end to civet coffee production, the best chance we have of slowly ending an industry that is built on marketing lies and suffering.
What are we doing to help?
We are campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of civet coffee for civets, people and the environment via our:
Upcoming documentary on the truth behind civet coffee
Educational outreach programs in universities, colleges, and zoos
In-situ partners, who we support to help civets and promote ethical human-civet interactions on the ground
How can you help?
The simplest way you can help protect civets from the civet coffee industry, is to disrupt the consumer demand for this cruel product. You can:
Boycott civet coffee
Share this article to help others learn the truth of civet coffee
Write to TripAdvisor asking them to remove civet coffee from their platform
Like, share and comment our social media posts to help us grown the our audience- the more people we reach, the more people will learn of civet coffee cruelty.
Download our free civet coffee myth busting resources
Donate to our cause
Support our upcoming documentary
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