Vanishing Species – The Binturong

An Article by Mohan Pai



Arctictis Binturong



  What’s a Binturong?

A Binturong, or Bearcat, is a mammal of the order Carnivora, found in the southeastern parts of Asia, from far eastern India through southwestern China, Thailand, Laos,Burma, Viet Nam, Malaysia, and parts of Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo). The westernmost island of the Philippines, Palawan, also has a few. They are plentiful nowhere, though not yet extremely endangered. But their habitat is constantly shrinking, and therefore so are their numbers. The word binturong is of Malaysian origin, but the animal is commonly called “bearcat” in English, never mind the fact that it is neither a bear nor a cat, but from an older lineage than either.

But what are they? They have one of the cutest faces in the animal kingdom, shaped like a sea lion’s. They can hang by their tails like some monkeys. They walk flat-footed like a bear, not on tiptoe like dogs and cats. They can crawl around upside down in trees like a sloth, and come down headfirst like a squirrel, even though they weigh about 40 lbs. They live in the tropics, but their coat looks as long and thick as a grizzly’s. They can balance on their hind legs and tail like a kangaroo. They have the typical carnivore teeth, but they love fruit above anything else. Its long fur serves more as a rain repellent than for warmth. It will eat meat with those teeth if it can catch some, but fruit is a lot easier for a tree animal.

They are highly endangered in parts of their range and threatened/ vulnerable in others due to habitat destruction and poaching for use as a delicacy and in medicine.

They are arboreal — living in the dense forest canopy of the rain forest. Relatively slow-moving and inoffensive, binturongs are mainly nocturnal. They spend the day curled in branches and basking in the sun. Awkward on the ground they are skilled climbers and move through the canopy from branch to branch searching for food. They can also dive, swim and catch fish; and they kill small animals like ducks by jumping on them!
They range in size from 4 – 5 feet including the tail which is almost as long as the body. Weight is 30 – 40 pounds. Binturongs have thick, coarse, glossy black fur, white whiskers and black ear tufts. The prehensile tail is covered with very long thick fur. It is used as an extra hand, holding on to branches or hanging by it to reach food. A scent gland under the tail produces strong-smelling musk oil which is used to mark their territory. The scent resembles popcorn or warm corn bread. They can make loud howls, low grunts, and hisses and when happy, chuckling noises.
Binturongs are fruit eaters, especially of strangler figs in their native habitat. Eggs, young shoots, leaves, birds, rodents and other small animals may also be eaten. They function both as critical seed dispersers and pest controllers in their habitat!Reproduction is non-seasonal but usually peaks during January to March. Gestation is around 91 days; litter size can vary from 1 to 6 but 2 is typical. Although usually tame, they can be aggressive when cornered and bite. They can be easily domesticated and kept as pets. Lifespan in captivity is 20 + years.

Pic 1 by Tssilo Rau

Reference: Wikipedia

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