At first sight, an uninformed observer could say that the binturong is an animal which has the size of medium size dog, with a dark grey coat, a triangular head, a little black gleaming nose, a tail which is approximately as long as the body, a malicious look and an unkempt fur. Because of its appearance, it is commonly called a bearcat. If this might be a satisfying description for many binturong lovers, some would rather get some specifics. Good news: you can find a scientific and detailed description of the species below.
- Kingdom : Animalia
- Phylum : Chordata
- Class : Mammalia
- Order : Carnivora
- Suborder : Féliformia
- Family : Viverridae
- Subfamily : Paradoxurinae
- Genus : Arctictis
- Species : Arctictis binturong
In some countries, the binturong is called a bearcat. Even if it there is no link with these two species, that nickname appeared because of its walk, which consists in applying the entire sole foot on the ground, like a bear. On the other hand, its jaw and head, as well as its reproductive parameters, are similar to a cat.
Size and weight
TheArctitis binturong is considered as the biggest civet of the world. Indeed, it can weight from 9 kg (in nature) to 24 kg (in captivity). It is also larger than other civets: it measures up to 1.80 m: its head and body reaches 60 to 90 cm and its massive tail from 60 to 90 cm.
It has long coarse hairs with a wide range of colours, from lightning grey to intense black. Its fur seems shaggy, because of the long black hair tufts on its large white-circled black ear, but also because of the paler ring on the hairs of its tail and back.
Its shinny black nose, its large ears, its brown to honey-colored eyes and its long moustaches make the binturong look like a sweet creature, even if its carnivorous teeth give it a fierce aspect when it yawns or feeds. Yet, its feeding habits are mostly composed of fruits and vegetables.
Body and limbs
Its limbs are short and stocky. Its paws are provided with large claws on its each five toes. Those allow it to climb on trees. Its ankles are supple, allowing it to move with ease through the dense forest canopies of South-East Asia.
The binturong’s tail is one of its more particular characteristics. Indeed, it is massive, prehensile, muscled and strong. It allows it to climb on branches, keeps its balance but also assures it not to fall when moving through trees using it as an anchorage. The binturong and the kinkajou are the two only carnivores gifted with such tail ability. Thanks to this tail’s strength, baby binturongs also are able to hang themselves upside-down, letting their entire body weighing upon it. To finish, in order to sleep, binturongs roll up and use their tail as a pillow.
Actually, the binturong distinguishes itself thanks to its smell that is similar to a buttered popcorn smell. Some in contact with binturongs sometimes compare it to overcooked rice. This odour is due to a bacteria developed by the perineal gland. The binturong uses this smell to mark its territory. The females also use it to alert males about their sexual receptiveness. Urine is used for the territoriality. Sometimes, females mark their own litter covering with urine.
Updated November 2014
Its distribution is large: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, etc.
Despite its large distribution, because of human proximity and deforestation, the binturong suffers from the fragmentation and reduction of its natural habitat. The whitei, one of the nine sub-species of the binturong, which lives on the Palawan isles in Philippines, is considered as vulnerable by the IUCN.
Updated November 2014
An omnivorous carnivore
Even if it is from the carnivore order, the binturong is an omnivore. It feeds on small animals (insects, invertebrates, carrions, small mammals or little sized birds) and fruits, moreover carbohydrates rich ones. Arboreal, it finds the major part of its foods in trees. Having a short intestine and no caecum, its gastrointestinal tract doesn’t allow it to efficiently digest vegetables. That’s why binturongs have to ingest a large quantity of food to respond to their metabolism needs. This also is the reason why a lot of undigested food is found in their faeces.
An asset for its ecosystem
This ill-suited tract is an asset for its ecosystem: seeds ingested by the binturong remain intact in it faeces and are disseminated through the forest while the animal moves. Binturong’s faeces are fertilizers, its digestive enzymes weaken the seed coat and faeces assure a protection towards others species that feed on seeds and could destroy them. The binturong is also essential for the forest renewal; it is a key species. It supports its ecosystem consuming little resource or resources that, if unregulated, could damage the habitat. For example, it limits small mammal populations’ growth, which is considered as harmful. Thanks to its large body size, it ingests large seeds without chewing them, boosting the regeneration of vegetal species that others couldn’t reach.
Updated November 2014
The major part of the information regarding reproduction and breeding came from captive binturongs. As the species is hard to observe in the wild, very few data do exist about it.
It seems that binturongs do not have a strict reproductive period, as birth are registered all year round. One female may give birth to one to four young per litter, twice a year. When in oestrus, the female changes its behaviour: she is closer to the male, sleep at its proximity, and its odour is heavier. She feeds much more two weeks before parturition. Gestation period lasts 90 days.
The new-borns remain blind during their first three days of life. Their eyes are completely opened at day 10 and their teeth starts showing up at day 25 to 28. After 45 to 60 days, they start eating solid food. Then, they reach their adult size at one year and start reproducing at 2 to 3 years old. The male takes care of its young and may participate in educating them.
Updated November 2014
In the wild, the binturong seems to live up to 14 years. In captivity, its life expectancy reaches 18 years and some individuals lived until their 24th anniversary. In fact, captive born individuals are vaccinated, free from parasites, predators, cullings…
In its natural habitat, the binturong often meets its predators (tigers and dholes, a wild Asian dog), but thanks to its strong jaws, its sharped claws and its large size, binturongs populations don’t suffer so much from predation. The more important cause of its vanishing is the fragmentation of its habitat and the poaching.
Easily tamed and docile, the binturong supplies pet trafic, and meat trade because some locals consider it as a delicacy. The decrease of primary rain forests in the south portion of its distribution is the larger threat upon the species. These areas are transformed in secondary forests containing bamboos; others disappear and are reoriented into agricultural lands. In the northern region, the binturong suffers from fragmentation of its habitat as well.
Since 2004, the binturong is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.
To go further on the reasons and dispositions about its conservation please follow this link.
Updated November 2014
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