Photo of the Month: Binturong

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Binturong; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species (Arctictis binturong) is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat destruction for agriculture, poaching for use in traditional Asian medicines, and the fur and pet trade. In some areas, the binturong is hunted for bushmeat and is considered a delicacy.

Habitat: This creature is primarily arboreal, spending most of its time high in the rainforest canopies of south and Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Using its prehensile tail as a check, the binturong moves slowly among tree branches in search of food. Because of its weight (adults range from 20-44 lbs.), this unique mammal usually descends to the forest floor to move between trees.

Diet: The binturong feeds primarily on fruits, tender shoots, and leaves, but will also eat some small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, and occasionally carrion. It is an important seed disperser, especially of figs; the binturong is one of only two known animals with digestive enzymes capable of softening the tough outer covering of the strangler fig’s seeds, allowing them to germinate. This special relationship makes the binturong a keystone species in the rainforest ecosystem.

“Binturong” is a Malagasy name; the species is also known as the bearcat. However, it is related to neither bears nor cats and instead belongs to an ancient group of mammals (family Viverridae) that includes civets and genets and is found only in the Eastern hemisphere.

Like other members of family Viverridae, the binturong has scent glands located just under its tail. As it moves through the trees, the binturong drags its tail, marking branches and foliage in its territory. To humans, the smell is similar to that of buttered popcorn.

The L.A. Zoo is home to two binturongs – a male and a female. They can be seen in the roundhouse next to the hippo exhibit.