With their black tufts of fur, sharp curved claws, long bushy tails, and large white whiskers, binturongs look like a cross between a small bear and a large cat. Sometimes called “bearcats,” they are really members of the mongoose family.
What They Eat
Although classified as carnivores, binturongs are omnivores. They are especially fond of fruits such as figs, and are notorious banana thieves! These animals are known to hang by their long, muscular tails to reach a variety of foods, including insects, small animals, eggs, and leaves.
Where They Live
These tree dwellers are native to the dense, tropical forests of South and Southeast Asia, from India, China, and Myanmar down to Malaysia and Indonesia.
What They Do
Wild binturongs usually live alone, but can be found in small family groups. They communicate with scent and vocalizations which include loud screeching howls, screams and chuckling noises. Most active at night, these shy animals sleep in high branches during the day and are difficult to see. When resting, they keep a firm grip on branches with their tails.
How They’re Doing
Binturongs are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and hunting. This once common mammal is now rare as its forest habitat is lost to logging and plantations.
- Binturongs are known to stomp and scream when threatened.
- Many people think binturongs smell like popcorn! They have special oil glands that produce the smell, which they leave behind on branches to communicate with each other.
- Due to their relatively large size for a tree-dwelling mammal, binturongs cannot leap easily from branch to branch. They must come down to the ground to move from tree to tree.
- Litters of binturongs commonly have two offspring, but may have up to six offspring.
Most records of binturongs in the wild come from general surveys or surveys aimed at other species. Therefore, not much is known about the population of wild binturongs across Southeast Asia. Binturongs are considered vulnerable to extinction. They are threatened by habitat loss when forests are cut down for logging or palm oil plantations. In some countries, binturongs are captured for the pet trade, or are hunted for meat and traditional medicines.
Things the Zoo’s Done/Doing
Minnesota Zoo staff coordinates the Tiger Conservation Campaign which supports anti-poaching and habitat protection projects in Sumatra and Malaysia. Although these efforts focus on tigers, they also benefit binturongs that live in the same forests.
In 2007 and 2009, the Minnesota Zoo supported small carnivore conservation research in Malaysia through the Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Fund. The project was championed by Tropics Mammals Zookeeper, Maria Reedstrom. The research study examined how selective logging and differences in forest composition affect the distribution of felids (cats) and viverrids (for example, civets, binturong) in Sabah, Malaysia. Extensive networks of camera traps as well as transect surveys were used to gain information about the presence and abundance of these carnivores in different study sites. This information will be used to develop conservation strategies for carnivores in Malaysia.
What You Can Do to Help
Rainforest species like tigers and binturongs are losing their homes when tropical forests are cleared to produce palm oil. Many food items, cleaning products, and cosmetics are made with palm oil. When you shop, you can choose products from companies that have committed to using sustainable palm oil. Learn more and use a shopping guide to make smart choices.