If you’re familiar with the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” you may recall one of the duo’s items on their list of things to do before they die was to drink a cup of kopi luwak. This Indonesian specialty coffee is so rare because it’s made from the excrement of free roaming wild civet cats. It’s commonly called cat poop coffee. Yes, cat poop coffee!
Civet (also spelled civit) cats are nocturnal mammals indigenous to Asia and Africa. In the wild, Indonesian palm civets consume only the ripest coffee cherries as part of their diet. They cannot digest the bean but the civet’s stomach enzymes apparently have an effect on the taste of coffee made from the recovered beans.
This rare and coveted commodity costs as much as $600 per pound. It is reported some restaurants charge £60 ($96) per cup. It is priced such because obtaining excrement from wild civets is a more labor-intensive process.
Once collected, the coffee beans are washed and made into beans ready to produce kopi luwak. The product is exported to European and Asian countries as a delicacy.
The BBC Undercover Investigation
The law of supply and demand has apparently changed the way kopi luwak is manufactured.
The BBC recently traveled to Sumatra, Indonesia for an undercover investigation into the kopi luwak trade. Posing as buyers, the reporters discovered the “wild” civet cats are actually factory-farmed and kept in small battery type cages while being fed an overabundance of coffee cherries.
The BBC reporters met with civet factory farmers who said they sold their coffee to Sari Makmur, an Indonesian export company that labels its civet coffee as “wild.” Sari Makmur’s vice president, Andry Spranoto, explained the company asks farmers if the luwak is from wild animals and are told yes, but they do not verify. “Frankly speaking, we are not keen on selling this Wild Luwak, as we cannot control it,” Spranoto told BBC reporters.
Sari Makmur’s Wahana estate produces kopi luwak from wild civets. It is not connected to the battery caged civets seen in Sumatra by BBC. Spranoto claimed there are no caged civets on the estate as their breeding program closed in 2007. A worker — who wanted to maintain anonymity — on the estate, told BBC there are civet cats enclosed.
According to the worker, “The space is two by one-and-a-half meters [about 6’ 6” by 5’]” and each animal has his own space. When BBC reporters confronted Sari Makmur staff, they admitted the presence of caged animals but insisted those captive animals are only being studied for behavior, breeding and dietary habits. They claim only wild civets are used in the processing of the kopi luwak they sell.
Wild Civet Cats
Civet cats are omnivores. They eat fruits, vegetation, small mammals (lizards, snakes and frogs) and insects. Due to overfeeding of (not necessarily ripe) coffee cherries while captive, the civets become ill. It is evidenced when they start to have bloody feces; however, when bleeding occurs, it is often too late to save the creatures.
Shy by nature, civet cats are quite wary of humans and other animals. They are solitary in the wild and rarely habitate with other civets. Being forced to live in cages next to each other is very stressful for these craetures.
Dr Neil D’Cruze, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), reviewed BBC footage and said the civet cats appeared “absolutely depressed and miserable.” He added, “These wild animals have behaviors they need and want to express. The cages are completely barren, they’re filthy, there’s nowhere to climb.”
Being nocturnal by nature, civet cats usually hunt for food between 6 PM and 4 AM when the moon is not bright. They mark their territory by dragging their anal glands along the ground. Their anal gland scent is not pleasant to human olfactory senses. Having a musky scent, it was used in perfume manufacturing before a synthetic musk was developed.
Although commonly referred to as civet cats, the creatures are not feline. Paradoxurus hermaphroditus (Asian Palm Civet) is actually from the Viverridae family and resembles a small mongoose.
What to Do
As kopi luwak is not a staple on the shopping list of ordinary people, it should be rather easy to boycott the product. Spread the word that drinking kopi luwak promotes animal abuse because of the factory farming practices now discovered. And when you go on that once in a lifetime vacation, say “no” to kopi luwak.
This news about kopi luwak and factory farmed civets may get people to consider a change in dietary habits. Who really wants to imbibe coffee made from animal excrement?
Photo credit: Wikipedia