It is primarily nocturnal and spends the day sleeping in dense vegetation. The mammal is awake at sunset. It is a solitary mammal that has a unique coloration: the black and white stripes and blotches covering the coarse pelage of the animal are extremely variable and allow it to be cryptic. The black bands surrounding its eyes closely resemble those of the raccoon. Other distinguishing features are its disproportionately large hindquarters and its erectile dorsal crest.
The African civet is an omnivorous generalist, taking small vertebrates, invertebrates, eggs, carrion, and vegetable matter. It is capable of taking on poisonous invertebrates and snakes. Prey is primarily detected by smell and sound rather than by sight. It prefers riverine habitats and woodlands.