The binturong is also known as a “bearcat” though it is neither a bear nor a cat. The precise meaning of “binturong” has been lost because the local language from which it originated is now extinct. They belong to a group of carnivores called Viverridae that includes genets and civets and dates back some 40–50 million years. These animals most closely resemble the ancestors of modern carnivores.
Binturongs are solitary, spending most of their life in the trees and foraging at night. They move slowly along branches using their prehensile, or grasping, tails as an extra limb. Their tails cannot support their full weight, but when used together with their sharp claws, binturongs can hang upside-down from a branch to reach their favorite fruit—figs. Due to their large size, they cannot jump from tree to tree but must descend to the ground to relocate. They rotate their ankles backward as they go down headfirst so their sharp claws can better grip the trunk. On the ground, they walk flat-footed like a bear. During the day, they curl up with their heads tucked into their tails to rest on secluded branches.
Binturongs are said to emit the aroma of buttered popcorn. This is a result of secretions from anal scent glands that the animals use to mark their territory when looking for a mate. Binturongs are capable of embryonic diapause. This means that after mating, the female can delay implantation and development of the embryo until conditions are favorable for pregnancy—usually when food is most plentiful. After about three months, one to three cubs are born with their eyes closed. They hide in their mother’s fur for the first few days but begin exploring in 6–8 weeks. They reach adult size in about one year.
Forests of south and southeast Asia including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
Binturongs are primarily fruit eaters, but will also consume tender shoots, leaves, small mammals, birds, fish, and carrion.
Body length around 2–3 feet. Weight ranges from 20–44 pounds. Females are up to 20 percent larger than males.