Get to know the Species


This is the bold and agile common genet (Genetta genetta), a mammal that bears some similarities to cats, although it is not related to them. The species was introduced to Portugal a long time ago, has become one of our most common wild mammals, and can be found all over mainland Portugal.

The genet is a solitary species that likes to roam at night in its preferred habitats—wooded and forested areas, vegetation near watercourses and rocky areas—hidden away from human view, but it is also an adaptable species, which is capable of living in many different environments, including those close to urban areas.

During the day, it prefers to seek shelter under bushes and trees, from dense conifers to chestnut trees, or in rocky hollows. It avoids open country, where it is more vulnerable, but tolerates living in small woods or fields of holm oaks, cork oaks, olive groves, vineyards, and other agricultural areas, provided they are flanked by dense hedges or situated near woods and forests.

Its behaviour is essentially nocturnal and it hunts in the dark, returning afterwards to the safety and comfort of its burrow, which it lines with the vegetation it finds nearby.

Although it mainly feeds on the flesh of small animals (such as rodents), insects, berries, and other fruits (especially autumn fruits) are also part of its diet. That is why the genet is considered omnivorous, or rather, mesocarnivorous—the name given to species that, like genets, foxes, weasels, badgers, and otters, supplement their meat-based diet with other foods.

Medium-sized with a long, slender body, genets have brown fur with dark spots and a black stripe running down the length of the body. The genet has a pointed snout, which is patterned white on black (or dark grey) and appears to form small triangles under its small eyes and around its mouth. Males and females are similar in all aspects, but the former is slightly larger.

Its five-toed paws have short, sharp, semi-retractable claws, which it uses to climb trees. Their tails are long and fluffy and are covered with eight to ten rings of black or grey fur. Their short limbs and wide, triangular ears further emphasise their resemblance to cats. Like them, genets are also agile, which is partly due to their light body weight –they weigh between 1.2 and 2 kilograms– and their long, slender bodies. In addition to jumping and climbing trees, they are also strong swimmers.

The genet reaches sexual maturity at the age of two. It breeds all year round, but more births are recorded between April and May and between August and September. Gestation is short, only lasting about 70 days, and it is relatively common for them to have two litters a year. In each litter, one to four offspring are born. At eight weeks, after weaning, the youngsters are ready to leave the nest for the first time, but only at 12 months do they leave it for good.

Although the conservation status of the genet is of “Least Concern” (LC) both in Portugal and worldwide, it is protected by Annex III of the Bern Convention and Annex B-V of the Habitats Directive. As for their protection, attention must be paid to threats such as the reduction and loss of habitats, which contribute to these elusive creatures venturing into urbanised areas, where they are often run over.


Did you know that…

  • The genet is a species of African origin—the only member of the Viverridae family in Portugal—whose introduction into Europe is still under some scrutiny today. The most widespread theory has been that it was the Arabs who brought it to the Iberian Peninsula during the Muslim invasions (8th century), but recent studies (molecular analysis) point to the fact that its introduction in the south of the Iberian Peninsula may have come much earlier, from the time when the Phoenicians established their trade routes across the Mediterranean. There is no doubt that it was introduced long ago and that the species has adapted so well to Portugal that we consider it to be part of the local wildlife.
  • Genets, like weasels, produce unpleasant smelling secretions. These substances are produced to establish territory and to convey messages about sexual or social behaviour. For example, when they are frightened or angered by competing animals or predators, these substances help deter unwanted presences.
  • Their vocalisations are another of their ways of communicating and several sounds are known: when they are afraid, the sounds they produce resemble growling; hiccup-like noises (clicks) are frequent between mothers and their young, as well as between females and males during mating season; and youngsters emit sounds very similar to the meowing of cats.

  • Genet

    Genetta genetta

  • Genus:


  • Family:


  • Threat status:

    “Least Concern” species in Portugal (according to the Portuguese Red Book of Vertebrates) and worldwide (according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List).

  • Habitats:

    It lives in a variety of different types of habitat, including woodland and forested areas, rich in vegetation cover near watercourses and rocky areas, up to an altitude of 3,000 metres. It may venture into planted fields and areas with more scattered trees.

  • Distribution:

    In Europe, where it was introduced, it can be found in Spain, France, Andorra, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and practically all over Portugal, except for the Azores and Madeira archipelagos. Elsewhere in the world, apart from the fact that the species is spread throughout the north and south of Africa, where it originated, for example in Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Ghana, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, and South Africa, it can also be found in Yemen, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

  • Height/Length:

    Up to 90 centimetres (body and tail).

  • Longevity:

    Up to 10 years in the wild and up to 18 years in captivity.

How do we look after genets?

As a generalist species, meaning it is not very picky as to the habitats it lives in or the type of food it feeds on, genets are quite adaptable and can therefore be found from the north to the south of Portugal. This observation has been made by The Navigator Company at the estates it manages in practically every region of the country, from Arouca, Tâmega, Amarante and Mogadouro, further north, to Monchique, in the south, not to mention the Tagus International region, Charneca do Tejo, Serra d’Ossa, and Vale do Sado.

By summer 2022, sightings were recorded at 48 estates, some of which were captured using camera traps (please see the video above).

The genet was also one of the mammal species identified by WildForests on The Navigator Company’s properties in central Portugal—Góis, Malcata, Pampilhosa and Mortágua—where the fieldwork of this scientific project studying the presence of mammals in planted forests was carried out.

Considering how adaptable the genet is, no special measures have been needed for its protection, except where burrows or nests are found. In such cases, measures must be taken to ensure that the area around the site is not subject to forestry operations that could cause disturbances.

Moreover, the establishment of areas of conservation interest on estates and active management to promote the improvement of the conservation status of habitats, which provide the various resources needed by the species, can serve as ecological corridors, which promote the movement of this and other animal species, supporting interchange between different populations, essential for one of the components of biodiversity—genetic diversity.