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Binturongs are nocturnal carnivores living in rain forests of Southeast Asia and are related to weasels, skunks, and mongooses. They live in trees and are rarely seen in the wild because they feed at night. These mammals are also called Malay civet cats and Asian bears because of their cat-like faces and bear-like bodies.
White whiskers contribute to this animal's resemblance to a cat. When a binturong stands upright, it puffs out its fur, which looks like a shaggy bear’s coat in shades of black, brown, and gray. This thick, coarse hair protects the animal from getting too wet and from injuries caused by sharp branches in the rain forest.
The binturong is one of two carnivores in existence with a prehensile tail, which usually extends as long as its body. It uses its tail to grasp branches as it travels through treetops in search of food. Although classified as a carnivore, a binturong generally prefers fruit, especially figs, in the wild. It also eats eggs, rodents, fish, and birds. In captivity, the animal is typically fed a high-quality dog food, supplemented with bananas, grapes, and other fruit.
One of the most distinctive features of binturongs is an odor emitted from a gland under their tails. It is has been described as smelling like corn chips or freshly popped popcorn. The odor warns other binturongs when one is in the area, and is used in mating. When the tails drag along branches, the scent is left behind.
This mammal also produces several sounds, including a growl when predators approach. Zookeepers report that when the binturong appears satisfied, it emits a sound similar to a guffaw or chuckle. It might also hiss, grunt, snort, and make a wailing sound when disturbed.
Binturongs grow up 2 to 3 feet long (60 to 90 cm) and can weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kg) at adulthood. In the wild, binturongs live up to 20 years, but they generally live longer in captivity. Females grow larger and weigh more than males, and are considered the dominant sex of the species. Binturongs serve an important role in rain forests because their droppings carry seeds that replenish plant life.
These animals are capable of breeding at any time, but another rare feature only occurs in binturongs. The female enjoys the ability to hold off implantation of a male’s sperm so that offspring may be born when the weather is optimal, timing fertilization for the best 90-day gestation period. Females bear between one and six offspring, which hide in the mother’s hair for a few days after birth because they are born with sealed eyes.
Binturongs are captured in Asia by poachers who sell their body parts as meat or for use in Chinese medicine. The meat is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. They are also hunted and sold as pets in the Philippines.