Binturong (Arctictis binturong)

Also known as: Bearcat, Palawan binturong
GenusArctictis (1)
SizeHead-body length: 61 – 96 cm (2)
Tail length: 56 – 89 cm (2)
Weight9 – 20 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES (3).

One of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail, the other being the kinkajou (Potos flavus), the binturong is a distinctive civet that skilfully traverses the canopy of tall tropical forests (2). A heavily built, robust civet with a fearsome appearance, the binturong has a pelage of long, course hairs that are a lustrous black, often with contrasting grey tips (4). A scattering of grey and buff covers the head, and black tufts with white margins protrude prominently from the ears. The binturong forms a distinct genus, with nine described subspecies, although the Palawan Island population (Arctictis binturong whitei) is often considered as a separate species (1) (5). 

The binturong has a widespread range, from North-eastern India and Bangladesh, through South-east Asia, including Yunnan and Guangxi in China, to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines (1).

The arboreal binturong is largely confined to the canopy of tall, dense tropical forests, although it may also be found in secondary forests (1). 

The binturong is a versatile, generalist feeder, and preys upon a variety of small mammals and insects, and also eats fruits, leaves and shoots (2). Rather than jumping between trees, like the more acrobatic primates, the binturong uses its prehensile tail as an extra hand, moving slowly, but efficiently, carefully placing each footstep, although it will occasionally drop to the ground to move between forest gaps, and even swim in rivers and catch fish (4). 

Typically solitary, although small groups of a mother and offspring may exist at certain times of the year, the binturong is not strictly territorial, but will occupy flexible home ranges, avoiding contact with other civets (6). In captivity, the binturong will mate year round, and females may give birth to two or three litters annually. The gestation period averages around 91 days, and a litter of two young are usually born. Maturity is reached after around two and a half years, and binturongs may live for over 25 years (2).

Restricted to areas of high forest coverage, the binturong is threatened by loss of its habitat. Throughout its range, the degradation and conversion of forest is commonplace, and deforestation has been attributed as the main cause of the species’ extirpation from much of India (1). Despite its aggressive appearance, the binturong is said to become quite affectionate once domesticated, and consequently, it is trapped for the pet trade in the Philippines (1) (2). It is also trapped in much of mainland Asia, for both food consumption, particularly in Vietnam and China where civets are considered a delicacy, and for the fur trade (1).

Considered rare throughout much of its range, the binturong is believed to be declining at a worrying rate, and measures are required to reduce the threats to this species. Consequently, it is listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and as Critically Endangered on the China Red List, regulating international trade (1) (3). The binturong is also found in a large number of protected areas, including the vast Cardamom Protected Landscape in southwest Cambodia; however, the level of protection and legal enforcement afforded the species varies. To ensure the preservation of this rare and vulnerable species, stricter enforcement against hunting and deforestation is required, while trade needs to be continually monitored (1).

For more information on the conservation of the binturong, see:

Authenticated (07/06/2010) by Daniel Willcox, Field Research Advisor, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP), Vietnam.

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Mammals of the world. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  3. CITES (February, 2010)
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (February, 2010)
  6. Grassman, L.I. Jr., Tewes, M.E. and Silvy, N.J. (2005) Ranging, habitat use and activity patterns of binturong Arctictis binturong and yellow-throated marten Martes flavigula in north-central Thailand. Wildlife Biology, 11: 49-57.