Binturong (Arctictis binturong)

It never ceases to amaze me just how many animals there are in the world. No matter how many times I blog or how many animals I look up, there’s always more to write about (which is good for you, readers, because it means this blog will go on and on). It also means that writing this blog is fascinating for me, because I get to keep learning things. Anyway, my point is that today’s animal, the binturong, was one of those I’d never really heard of, so I’m quite excited to write about it. Especially since it looks really funny.

Binturongs are native to Southeast Asia, ranging from Nepal to Vietnam and the Philippines. They spend most of their time in trees, so their main habitat is in forests, especially tropical forests. Binturongs like the canopy areas of forests, so you’ll likely find them in tall forests.

Aren't they strange looking? Kinda cute still though.  Photo credit: Wikipedia

Aren’t they strange looking? Kinda cute still though.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

As I said, binturongs are pretty strange looking. Their appearance has earned them the name bearcat, which is a misnomer since binturongs are neither bears nor cats. They are in fact viverrids, a Carnivore family that contains civets and genets. The binturong is the largest species of viverrid, weighing anywhere from 9 to 20 kg, and measuring up to 96 cm. Their tail, which is prehensile, is almost as long as their body, reaching 89 cm. Binturongs have coarse, black fur covering their whole bodies, with lighter fur on their faces and long white whiskers. Their ears are rounded with funny ear tufts sticking out of them.

Binturongs are generally solitary, only coming together to mate. They communicate mostly through smell, although when a female is in estrus, she makes calls to attract males. Oddly, the scent left behind by binturongs marking trees is supposed to smell like popcorn. They breed throughout the year, with litter sizes ranging from 2 to 6 pups. The pups hide in their mother’s fur during their first few days of life, which has got to look adorable. They are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and reach sexual maturity between 28 and 30 months of age.

An absolutely adorable baby binturong.  Photo credit Cameron Spencer/Getty Images via National Geographic

An absolutely adorable baby binturong.
Photo credit Cameron Spencer/Getty Images via National Geographic

Despite their bulky shape, binturongs are good climbers, using their rotatable hind legs and prehensile tail to move through the trees. They are mostly frugivorous, eating fruits such as figs. They will hunt, however, catching insects, birds and rodents. The binturong plays a key role in the dispersal of strangler fig seeds, as their ingestive tract contains enzymes needed to soften the seeds’ coats.

As an arboreal species, binturongs are particularly susceptible to deforestation, which is the main threat to the species. They are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and is a protective species in Malaysia. I’d say I want one as a pet (because I want every cute animal as a pet), but though they are intelligent and curious, binturongs are apparently also quite ill-tempered, so that’s probably not a good idea. And having endangered species as pets is usually a pretty terrible idea.

Cover photo credit: ucumari, via Flickr

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