The binturong is a carnivore of medium size found in dense forests in South-East Asia. This animal is thought to be a close relative of the palm civet. It is the biggest member of this family. Its body is like that of a bear and its face resembles that of a cat, thus it has the nickname “bear cat”. Binturongs have a prehensile tail that they use as an extra limb to climb and grip branches. In this species, females are dominant and are about 20 percent larger and heavier than males.
The binturong has a widespread range, from Bangladesh and north-eastern India to south-east Asia, including Guangxi and Yunnan in China, to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. They are largely confined to the canopies of dense, tall tropical forests, although may be found sometimes in secondary forests.
Binturongs are generally solitary and nocturnal animals, spending the majority of their time moving slowly and cautiously in the treetops. They are excellent climbers, but because of their large size they are not able to leap between trees, and therefore have to descend to the ground to move from one tree to another. They can also swim and dive well, often spending time in water to cool off when the weather is hot. Although they are usually solitary, small groups of these animals are not uncommon, usually consisting of a male and female pair and their young. In such a group, the female is the dominant adult. This species is very vocal and can make a range of sounds, both to communicate and to issue a warning to species that it considers as a threat. Chuckling sounds seem to indicate that they are happy and a high-pitched wail means that they are aggravated.
Binturongs are primarily frugivorous, eating fruits including that of the strangler fig tree. They also eat birds, fish, eggs, rodents, invertebrates, shoots, leaves, and carrion, and so can be classed as omnivorous.
There is little research available regarding the binturong’s mating system. It has been observed that the father in a mated pair remains with the mother and their young after birth, suggesting a monogamous system. However, males do not always stay to help raise the young. A reproductive season for this species does not seem likely, because mating takes place throughout the year. However, there is an increase in the birth rate between January and March, which is possibly due to delayed implantation. The gestation period is 91 days, and usually 2 young are born, but there can be as many as 6. Young stay hidden amongst their mother’s fur during the first few days. They are weaned at around 6 to 8 weeks. The females are sexually mature at about 30 months old and males at about 28 months.
Restricted to areas with high forest coverage, this species is threatened by habitat loss. Throughout its range, degradation and conversion of the forest is commonplace, and the species being extinct in much of India is mainly attributed to deforestation. Despite an aggressive appearance, the binturong becomes quite affectionate once domesticated. As a consequence, it is caught and sold in the Philippines for the pet trade. In mainland Asia it is also frequently trapped for the fur trade, and for food, particularly in China and Vietnam, where they are considered a delicacy.
The Binturong used to be relatively common within its distribution range, but it is now mostly uncommon or rare. No population estimate is available. Because of a declining population trend currently this species is classified by the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.
Binturongs are described often as a keystone species in their ecosystems. This species are the only animals known to disperse strangler fig seeds. As predators, they may have an influence on the numbers of their prey species.