Southeast Asia


Tropical rain forest

It’s a what?

It’s a binturong! Looking like something Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up, a binturong has a face like a cat's and a body like a bear's, long, shaggy black hair, stiff white whiskers, and a prehensile tail that’s as long as its body. Binturongs are also called bearcats, but that name is rather misleading since these animals are not related to bears OR cats. Instead, they are related to civets and fossas but look more like gigantic dust mops and smell like a freshly made batch of popcorn!

The hair coloration on binturongs can vary from black to brown with white, silver, or rust on the tips, which gives the binturong a grizzled appearance. Binturongs are classed as carnivores but eat mostly fruit. Their long ear tufts and reddish-brown eyes give them an endearing appearance but one that isn’t seen very often in the wild by humans.

Getting around

Binturongs spend most of their time in the trees, but they usually have to climb down to get from tree to tree, since they are not nearly as acrobatic as monkeys. Padded paws and long claws help them grasp branches. Their body is low to the ground, like a bear or a human. They walk flat-footed, and, when waddling on the ground, they tend to amble much like a bear does. Unlike a bear or human, though, binturongs can turn their ankles 180 degrees so their claws can still grip when climbing down a tree headfirst.

A binturong’s tail is very thick and muscular at the base, with the last third of it prehensile to be used like an extra hand when climbing around in the treetops. A leathery patch at the tip helps the tail grip the branches a binturong climbs through. Binturong youngsters have been seen hanging upside down while completely supported by their tail, but adults are a bit too heavy to do this without using a paw or two for an extra grip. Binturongs can swim fairly well and have good vision day or night, and so can be active at any hour they choose.

The binturong is the only Old World mammal and one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail (the other is the kinkajou).
The real meaning of the word binturong is lost now, as the local language that used it is extinct.
Binturongs are also known as Asian bearcats and Malay civet cats. Bearcat is also another name for the red panda.

The San Diego Zoo first exhibited binturongs in 1929, and successfully bred them as early as 1932.

Today, both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park have binturongs trained as animal ambassadors. They meet guests up close and make appearances on television stations. We hope you'll look for our binturongs on your next visit to the Zoo or the Safari Park, to see for yourself what wonderful creatures they are!

Binturongs are listed as vulnerable in some parts of their range and endangered in others. Nowhere in the wild are they common, though, and they are currently at risk due to habitat destruction, poaching for traditional Asian medicines, and the fur and pet trade. They are also considered to be a delicacy in some areas and are hunted for food.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has established a Species Survival Program for binturongs, of which San Diego Zoo Global is a part.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.