The binturong, the malaysian bearcat, what ever you call it, it’s still one of my favorite animals. I vaguely remember hearing about the strange animals on some television show when I was young, but I never really knew anything about them until I began my internship at the Palm Beach Zoo. Behind the scenes of the Wild Things show lived the retired Scooter, a very old, very sweet binturong.
The first time I met Scooter he immediately climbed from a branch onto my shoulders and rubbed his face into my hair, which smelled nice from my grape-scented shampoo. I was both terrified and excited. It was my first experience with a truly exotic animal where it was okay that this 30 pound creature was nuzzling his face, full of dangerous teeth all over my face.
The second thing I noticed was the smell. I tended to be pretty acclimated to most odd smells but you can not ignore the smell of a binturong. Its a very distinctive scent of popcorn. Its a smell that you can’t help but giggle when smelling. This large, prehensile tailed animals smells of popcorn! It was a smell my mother never really got over. She knew I had a good day at work when I would come home reeking of binturong popcorn. The scent was exacerbated by heat and water, basically, a shower. The hot water would hit my binturong scented hair and the smell would permeate my entire room.
I think I’ve rambled on about Scooter long enough, lets get to some more binturong facts. There are nine subspecies of binturong, though they all look pretty similar. They are found throughout South East Asia and live in the trees. They are excellent climbers and have prehensile tails. They scent mark with their feet and face, not with urine. They are most closely related to civets, but are quite different from other civets.
Now, Scooter was incredibly sweet, but most binturongs are pretty aggressive. My old supervisor at the Dallas Zoo was actually attacked by a binturong they had used for education. They have sharp claws and even sharper teeth, and I probably wouldn’t be as comfortable around a binturong that wasn’t Scooter.