The binturong is a strange mammal, looking like a cross between bears and cats. This has led to its nickname, the bearcat. Other names include the Asian bearcat, the Asian civet, and the Malay civet cat. In Indonesia, the locals call it ‘benturong’ or ‘tenturun’.
A native of the forests of Southeast Asia, its population has been declining, at about 30% since the 1980s.
Size: Length: 23.62 to 37.80 in (60 to 96 cm) Weight: 19.82 to 44.05 lb (9 to 20 kg)
Tail: The tail is strong and muscular, thick towards the root, curling inwards close to the tip. It is similar to the length of its body, measuring 26 to 27 in (66 to 69 cm).
Body and Coloration: It has a heavy build, with a pointy, short muzzle and short, powerful legs. Their eyes are black and large; the ears are short, rounded, edged with white fur, ending with tufts of black hair. Females are generally larger than males, around 20% so.
Their pelage is thick and coated with coarse black hair. Its body hair is whitish, but the head is always buff or speckled gray.
Their pelage is thick and coated with coarse black hair. Parts of its body hair are whitish, but the head is always buff or speckled gray.
The binturong inhabits parts of Southeast Asia, in India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Philippines, Vietnam, and the Indonesian islands of Java, Sumatra, Nias, Raiu, and the Bangka islands.
It dwells in different types of forests, such as evergreen forests in Laos, lowlands, and grasslands in the Philippines, secondary forests in Malaysia, and foothills with good tree cover in several nature reserves in India, including Manas National Park and the Dulung and Kakoi reserved forests, both in Assam.
They are omnivores, eating small mammals, fish, birds, insects, earthworms, and even fruits like strangler figs.
They can live for about 18 years in the wild.
Binturongs are solitary and avoid one another but aren’t aggressively territorial. The only groups observed are mothers with their young.
They are arboreal, spending a lot of time climbing trees. However, they lack agility and cannot conveniently leap from one tree to the other due to their large size. Hence, these animals primarily descend to the ground and then try motioning from tree to tree.
During sleep time, they go to the tree’s high branches, tucking their head into their tail in a curled-up posture.
The binturong displayed several different comfort behaviors, including grooming their fur, scratching, licking their hair, and, most importantly, shaking themselves.
This species is active both during the night and the day, having a good vision for both periods.
The binturong is gentle, only acting aggressive when harassed or threatened. It will respond in several ways; by urinating or defecating on the threat, snarling and baring its teeth, attacking with its claws and teeth, or fleeing into the closest tree.
It has very few predators, with only tigers and dholes being large enough to hunt them. Others, like reticulated pythons, leopards, and clouded leopards attack the binturong occasionally, mostly if the latter gets into their domain.
Binturongs have sharp claws for gripping and moving among trees.
The tail of this species is prehensile, using it to balance itself and hang from branches. The only other carnivore to have a similar type of tail is the kinkajou.
They have scent glands under their tail, leaving behind a smell like buttery popcorn as they drag themselves up against trees. This helps them discourage predators, and even mark their territory, thus preventing other binturongs from trespassing.
Mating and Reproduction
The binturong uses delayed implementation to reproduce, being one of the few mammals capable of it. Once they are ready to mate after an estrous cycle ranging from 18 to 187 days, females indicate so by purring. Males might remain with their partner after mating and in some case even post the birth of the babies. They are sexually active till 15 years of age.
After being pregnant for three months, a litter of 1-3 offspring is born, though the numbers sometimes go. Newborns weigh between 0.626 and 0.751 lbs at birth, with their eyes sealed shut , hidden in their mother’s fur. After 6-8 weeks, the juveniles are the size of a cat, grow a layer of rough hair, and start exploring their surroundings out of curiosity and need for food.
Males reach sexual maturity at 27.7 months, while for females, it’s 30.4 months.
The IUCN lists the binturong as “VU” or “Vulnerable”. In Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Thailand the population is protected while in China it is in the critically endangered category.
It is mainly threatened by habitat loss caused by the degradation of forests due to logging and conversion to agricultural lands. In the Philippines, it is traded illegally for fur and human consumption. In Laos people regard it as a delicacy while in Vietnam peopled trade them as an edible item.
Binturongs make for great pets because of their intelligent and friendly nature, often kept in zoos. Finding a pair is however difficult because of the rarity of females.
Every year, the 2nd Saturday of May is celebrated as World Binturong Day to raise awareness about the species.
The meaning of the species’ name is lost to time as the language used to name it is no longer colloquially spoken.
Orang Asil, indigenous to Malaysia have the tradition of petting binturongs.