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Zoos, Binturong Exotic Animal Education

Updated on December 5, 2012


Poster of a cute Binturong face up close
Poster of a cute Binturong face up close | Source
Binturong skeleton poster
Binturong skeleton poster | Source

I'll take my Binturong with extra butter please...

When I think of exotic zoo animals, popcorn rarely comes to mind. But when being educated about the binturong, popcorn was totally on my mind! High in the tree canopy over Southern Asia's tropical forest there lives the only Old World carnivore that uses its tail for climbing. You may recognize it more familiarly as being called the bearcat. This creature is neither bear nor cat, but rather a member of the civet cat clan. Civets are related to cats, but are also cousins to the mongoose and hyena. The bearcat, or binturong (Arctitis binturong), gets its name from a Malaysian language that no longer exists. When you lay eyes upon the binturong, you will understand why so many have confused this creature for what it is not: it has the face and whiskers of a seal, the tail of a monkey, claws of a mongoose, and the thick fuzzy hair and flat feet of a bear. It's no tiny scatting-thing either, this guy weighs in at over forty pounds and reaches six-feet in length (think of a golden retriever that can climb trees using its tail). Even as the binturong spends the majority of its life in the canopy, it tends to move around very slowly, leading some folks to even mistake it as a sloth.

Binturongs stand about 3+ feet
Binturongs stand about 3+ feet
Up close Binturong - standing
Up close Binturong - standing

The Binturong Tail

Even though they evolved very separately, the binturong and monkey both use their tails for gripping. The binturong has a three-foot-long muscular fifth arm with a bare leathery patch at the end. The binturong uses its tail to pick and hold food as well as hanging from branches, again like our friends the monkeys. Their tail is strong enough for them to walk down a tree trunk headfirst or upside down along a branch to get at hard to reach fruit.

What Do Binturongs Eat

Binturongs live mostly on fruit and have a substantial sweet tooth; in captivity, they have a huge preference for very ripe bananas and mango's. But, if you happened to have a marshmallow, apple pie, or milk shake be prepared to share. After consuming such high sugar sweets, they display symptoms of a very-high sugar-high, causing for uncharacteristically manic behaviors like leaping and running around frantically before they collapse from exhaustion to sleep it off. Despite their fondness for fruit and sweets, the binturong is a genuine carnivore. You can occasionally catch them snatching a bird or reeling in a fish (they are top-notch swimmers).

Baby Binturong! (1 min. video)

Binturong up high on a branch
Binturong up high on a branch
Binturong are bery agile in the tree tops
Binturong are bery agile in the tree tops

Binturong, Popcorn, and Perfume

Binturong Oil Makes For A Really Great Perfume

Like all civets, the binturong marks its territory with a pungent body oil. This oil, was for centuries used as an additive bringing longevity to perfumes. The oil was collected from the glands of the civets and genitalia with a specialized spoon. The binturong has a large gland under its tail, and this is what it rubs against tree trunks, branches, posts, and other available landmarks. This is how the binturong leaves its calling card which offers exact information regarding health, sex, age and sexual status. Most civet species have a very strong and off-putting smell, but the binturong's gland brings with it a most familiar aroma, even pleasant if you will, and much like that of buttered popcorn.

BInturong Marking's Smell Like Popcorn

The popcorn scented marking is left by both males and females, but don't be fooled, it's the woman of the house who is in charge in this species. She is much bigger than her male counterpart, and has a large, penis-like clitoris. Both sexes have been hunted for their oil, and the males penis bone is a valuable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, said to promote virility and conception of male children.

The Binturong As A Pet

It may be hard to believe, but the other reason the binturong is hunted and removed from its home, is that it makes an excellent pet. I wouldn't recommend keeping them as an indoor pet, the need to climb could make for some unwanted accidents. Unfortunately they became popular in the United States, originally bringing a handsome price of $2,000 for a fertile adult. No idea what the cost would be today, as this species may be more costly to import due to the smuggling charges for black-market exotics. They are said to be easily tamed and that the tail acts as a built-in-leash for walking—the binturong tail will grip your hand while you take it for an afternoon stroll.


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