[ Arctictis binturong ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 3 to 3.5 feet
TAIL LENGTH: 32 inches
WEIGHT: 30 pounds or more
WILD DIET: mostly fruit, but also leaves, shoots, insects, small mammals, birds, and carrion
ZOO DIET: omnivore diet, consisting of fortified beef, vegetables, and chow; also bananas, apples, grapes, steamed carrots, and sweet potatoes, and shank bones once a week
DISTRIBUTION: Southeast Asia: Myammar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Palawan; not abundant over any part of its range.
HABITAT: dense tropical and subtropical forests

Little known carnivores
Binturongs are members of the "viverrid" family, a group of carnivores that are relatively unknown to many people. Viverrids are an ancient group of small- to medium-sized mammals found only in the Old World (the eastern hemisphere). The majority of viverrids have a general catlike appearance (they are distantly related to cats), but there is a huge variation in coat texture and markings among the the many species found in this group. Most viverrids are carnivorous (meat eating), but some, like the binturong, have evolved into omnivores (eating meat and plants).

A sum greater than its parts
A binturong looks a bit like an animal that Dr. Seuss might have created---separately the parts look familiar, but together you are not quite sure what the animal adds up to be. Its whiskered face is sort of catlike, but its shaggy black coat and slow, flat-footed gait remind one of a bear. The binturong’s long thick tail is prehensile (capable of grasping), a characteristic it shares with many primates. This seeming hodgepodge of a creature has spawned the nickname "bearcat," but in reality the binturong’s piecemeal appearance adds up to one very well-adapted animal.

Up there
If you were walking through the binturong’s rain forest home you would probably never see one. That is because they live high in the canopy and rarely come to the ground. Binturongs are careful climbers---weighing up to 30 pounds and living in the trees, they have to be! Binturongs can grip with their paws better than most carnivores, and their hind legs are particularly adept at clinging. As they make their way methodically from limb to vine, their ever-active tail is always searching for a grip. A binturong’s tail is its most important climbing tool, and it comes equipped with a leathery patch at the end for extra traction. Even when sleeping, sprawled out and legs dangling, a binturong’s tail is anchored securely around a branch.

Eat your fiber
Binturongs are classified as carnivores, but their canine teeth are reduced and their cheek teeth are flattened---these are both signs of an omnivorous diet. The cheek teeth are perfect for grinding down fibrous fruit and leaves. Fruit is their favorite food by far, and binturongs spend much of the night foraging for it high in the trees. With excellent senses of sight, smell, and hearing, they are well-suited to a nocturnal world. Binturongs are socially flexible, living alone or in small groups of adults and young.

Is that popcorn I smell?
Many mammals have an odor, some pleasant, some not-so-nice. Few mammals, however, have an aroma so readily identifiable as that of binturongs. They smell like fresh-popped popcorn! This buttery bouquet has nothing to do with pleasing human noses, and is just a by-product of scent-producing glands that binturongs rub on branches. A strong-smelling tree lets other binturongs know that the area is occupied and that outsiders should “stay out.”

Binturongs at Brookfield Zoo
The Fragile Rain Forest is home the zoo’s binturongs, where they share an exhibit with small-clawed otters and Prevost's squirrels. You can you can see them above the stream and pool, high up the hill among the trees.

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Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society