Genets are closely related to civets but are often mistakenly called cats because of various superficial similarities in appearance.
Genets are slender cat-like lean carnivores with long ringed tails, large ears, a pointed muzzle and partly retractile claws adapted to climbing and catching prey. They generally have spotted fur, musk glands, and anal sacs.
Genets have a dark stripe along the spine; they differ in size, fur colour and spot pattern. They have large eyes with elliptical pupils with their iris about the colour of the fur. They can move their eyes within their sockets to a limited extent and move their heads to focus on moving objects.
Their ear pinnae have a fine layer of hair inside and outside. They can move the pinnae by about 80° from pointing forward to the side and also from an erect position to pointing downwards. They have a wet nose essential for both sensing smell and touch.
Secretive except when habituated, genets are attracted to human waste and are occasionally seen sneaking around safari lodges and campsites after dark.
Approximately 14 species of genets are identified, all of which vary in appearance and habitat. Some of them inhabit Uganda’s conservation areas.
The Servaline Genet (Genetta tigrina), large-spotted genet (Genetta tigrina) and small-spotted genet (Genetta genetta) are all widespread in Uganda, with the latter two generally occurring in more lightly wooded areas than the former, and sometimes observed on night drives in the Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
The giant forest genet (Genetta victiriae), a west African species, has been recorded in Maramagambo Forest in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The common genet tends to prefer all types of wooded habitats (deciduous and evergreen), where it often associates with rivers and brooks, but it also hangs out in other habitats where there is suitable prey.
The common genet avoids open habitats but may occur even in small fragments of woodland in farmland or near villages and usually is absent from rainforests, dense woodlands and woodland-moist savanna mosaics.
Genets feed mainly on small mammals but will also take birds, other small vertebrates, insects, and fruits. It is not uncommonly found near human buildings, people and their domestic animals, which could have implications for disease transmission.