Saturday, January 21, 2012

Interesting Animals: Binturong

A binturong (Arctictis binturong).
This species is also commonly known as the bearcat. It's rather easy to see where that name came from: a bear-like face, tufted ears, long tail. The binturong, however it is not very closely related to either species. It is classified in with the civets and genets, which are cat-like carnivores that are still distinctly different from the cats. It is native to forested areas of South Asia, and is currently a Vulnerable species. One fun fact about this species is their smell, which is very like the smell of buttered popcorn.

Though the binturong is arboreal (tree dwelling),  it does not swing and leap between trees as so many arboreal species do, but instead will descend to the ground and move between trees that way. They are also known as heavy scent-markers, frequently being observed rubbing their various scent glands onto whatever surface they may be in contact with. Males in particular will also use their own urine to scent mark, sometimes by soaking their own tails in it. The species does not seem to have any potential negative effects for humans. They are occasionally kept as pets and in some areas, they are eaten. Where they are native, they are very important to the local plant life due to their nature as a seed disperser.

Since the species is Vulnerable, there is concern over what may have caused the reduction in numbers. As is so often the case, loss of habitat and modifications of the habitat that does remain has been detrimental. They are also collected for their fur, meat, and also for the pet trade. There is likely some connect between these problems, namely that it is not unusual for trees to be cut down to capture animals seen as desirable for whatever reason. When they are hunted, their behavior does not do them any favors. The species is generally not fearful of people, and since they are active fairly often during daylight it can make them very easy to find.

Sources are Animal Diversity Web, the IUCN Red List, and the San Diego Zoo. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. 

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