At the Aquarium
Rungus, our male binturong, came to us from a captive breeding program in the United States. He was trained to accept a harness and leash so he could have a daily walk around Shark Lagoon where he was especially fond of the grassy area. Unfortunately, when he began to reach maturity, his disposition changed so he changed homes. Rungus was donated to the Chafee Zoo in Fresno, California where he will become part of a breeding program developed to save this threatened species.
Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, and Borneo
Binturongs live in the canopies of dense tropical and subtropical rainforests, rarely coming to the forest floor during the day.
Binturongs have long, low, stocky bodies covered with shaggy, coarse, black fur tipped with a gray or buff color that gives the animals a speckled appearance. Their heads and faces are covered with fine grizzled-gray hair and long, black, white-tipped whiskers that can reach up to 20 cm (8 in) long. Their front feet have opposing digits and soft pads while their back feet have semi-webbed toes. Their toe nails are sheathed like a cat’s but are only semi-retractable.
The combined head and body length of this subspecies is 61-96 cm (2-3 ft). The tail is almost as long at 56-89 cm (1.8-2.9 ft). Males weigh about 9-14 kg (20-31 lb) and females about 20% more.
Nocturnal animals, binturongs do most of their hunting at night, using their long whiskers as “tools” for sensing food. They tear at food with their forepaws. Leaves, plant sprouts, birds, eggs, carrion, lizards, small mammals, fish, and fruit, for which they have a decided preference, are all part of their diet.
These animals reach sexual maturity at about 30 months of age. Fertilization is internal. After a 90-92 day gestation period, one or two blind cubs weighing about 308 gm (11 oz) are born in dens or tree hollows. Their eyes open at 10 days. The cubs nurse for about eight weeks. Both parents are believed to take an active part in their care and training until the cubs become independent at about one year.
The social structure of these animals is believed to be either solitary or a small group consisting of a male, female, and one or two young. They communicate with a variety of vocalizations including an aggressive high-pitched scream. When challenged by another animal, they will sometimes spit.
Their front feet are adapted for digging, climbing, and opening and holding onto food while eating and their back feet for grip and balance during climbing. Their prehensile tails enable them to grasp branches, especially as they climb downward, and to balance on tree branches.
Binturongs mark their territory with scent. Their scent glands, located near their tails, are rubbed along branches as they walk or are deliberately rubbed against upright branches to deposit an oily musk as a signal to other binturongs. When frightened, they spray their musk, which smells like buttered popcorn.
Their life span in a protected environment is about 10-20 years.
Binturongs are important ecologically as controllers of rodent populations and dispensers of seeds.
These animals are in trouble due to destruction of their rainforest habitats, being poached for food and use in traditional medicine, and lack of perceived value in their native countries. The Palawan binturong, Arctictis binturong whitei, is listed on the IUCN Red List as endangered.
Binturongs have a definite preference for the fruit of the strangler fig, the primary canopy plant of their forest habitats. Seeds of the strangler fig cannot germinate without assistance. These animals make germination possible by breaking down the outside coating of the seeds during digestion, excreting them in their droppings, ready to grow.