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Care Sheet - Binturong
The Binturong Information Sheet
by Mindy Stinner , Executive Director
Conservators' Center, Inc.
According to the International Species Information System (ISIS), the number of facilities registering breeding of binturongs worldwide number around 55 (1995, http://www.worldzoo.org).
It is very difficult to find written publications on binturongs so the remainder of this is text is based on my observations of one group of 58 animals at the Carnivore Preservation Trust (CPT) in Pittsboro, NC, and two other individual binturongs kept, one as a resident of a private educational zoo in the NC mountains, and one in another small zoo. Some information has also been passed on to me by knowledgeable people who have helped me along the way.
Binturongs have an expected life span of 10-15 years in captivity, less in the wild. I have known binturongs of age 23 or older to be flourishing in captivity. They are endangered in large part because rainforest locals in Southeast Asia, who used to hunt them only for food, have found an ever-increasing profit in selling them to those who promote the Chinese medicine trade. Their penis bones, ingested as a powder or cooked into food, are said to help men stay virile and to help produce male children. Also threatening to them is a loss of habitat due to deforestation. At the open markets in Laos they cost around the equivalent of three US dollars. As of 1998, in the exotic pet trade in the US, a young, breedable, healthy individual runs $1500-2500.
Adults are content to live in breeding pairs, although they seem especially happy when left in a large non-competitive group that has been raised together. CPT has successfully housed 4-7 adult males together long-term, and has shifted some individual adults between groups without undue stress on the animals. Mixing of males into new groups as adults has not been successful. Even as adults, they are playful and attentive to each other, with young animals and breeding pairs exhibiting grooming behaviors and a desire to be near each other most of the time.
Females come in season a few times each year. Her behavior toward the male and toward human visitors may be more aggressive at this time. The female’s genitalia are especially large, and have been called masculine. They do strongly resemble the male’s anatomy, including a “false penis,” an impression created in part by the presence of a clitoral bone. Couples mate several times, often in a variety of positions, during her season. The gestation period is ninety days, and late spring babies are the norm, though we have also had fall and winter babies on occasion. They are extremely comfortable mating even in a public forum, often making playful noises and chasing each other non-aggressively during mating.
Most binturong mothers give birth in their den boxes, although it is common to also see them “nest” outside. Usually they simply choose a site sheltered from the elements on the ground. The attitude of the mother toward the presence of people depends largely on how the bint was raised--in most cases they will not threaten or attack unless it is obvious a person is making a move to handle the babies. We have had at least one case in which a worker had raised the mother as an infant, and in return, the mother bint let the woman handle her babies from the first week on. Fathers are present in the cage at CPT when babies are born, although they usually are up in a tree or somewhere else both away from the mother and at a height that allows them to watch the area. Some fathers tend to be passive, especially if the mother is assertive and confident. Other fathers are very protective, charging, growling, and slamming into the fence if they feel threatened. This behavior usually only lasts while the infants are very young (1-2 weeks). In some cases, two sibling or same-generation females have shared a cage with the one male. The two females usually co-mother infants, and if both have offspring at roughly the same time, will suckle and keep together the other’s children with their own.
Newborns weigh several ounces and are about the size of a human fist. Most litters contain 1-3 bintlings or bintlets (OK, we don’t have a scientific name for the infants, so these are our cutsey names), but litters as large as 5 have been born at CPT, though only a portion of that litter survived. In the case of multiple offspring, there is almost always one runt who is significantly smaller than its siblings. Infants resemble kittens or small puppies in their state at birth; they must be licked dry by the mothers, they have closed eyes and folded ears, are generally helpless but can make a loud mewling if needed. Their front feet can grasp instinctively, more like hands than feet, and their prehensile tail also has a grasping reflex. They usually begin sucking within an hour of birth. If the mother needs to transport them, she will either grasp them around the body just in front of the hind legs, or she will scruff them. As with kittens, the mothers must lick the infants to empty their bowels from birth until about four weeks of age. Baby bints also have a very distinctive odor, much like popcorn or "Frito" chips. The adult bints have a scent pouch called a perineal gland which they drag across branches, etc. to scent-mark their areas with an oily substance (they will also sometimes rub their back feet back and forth, the way some larger cats do when they mark). Some of the wildlife books have suggested that this, too, smells like popcorn, but I have not smelled any particularly noticeable odor. (Of course, after this level of exposure, my nose's faculties come into question...) Some of the mothers will mark their offspring, especially if they are abandoning it. This type of marking smells like strong urine, and it is difficult to wash off. All bints are also capable of “skunking” when very frightened. This is a fine spray of liquid which has an acrid smell and which actually almost burns when inhaled. While many people have a strong allergic reaction to bints in general, I know of at least one person who had an anaphylactic reaction to an infant skunking, and she ended up in the emergency room. The scent is slow to diffuse, and difficult to remove from clothing. Although adults are capable of skunking, I have only witnessed it from any animal older than eight weeks on one occasion, when a male was being moved too roughly against his will. In a situation when some animals would have chosen to bite, this one defecated and skunked.
Physical appearance varies widely from individual to individual. The length of bints’ tails is fairly uniform at about 1.2 times the length of the entire bint, nose to tail base. Females of mating age are commonly 20% larger than their male counterparts, although they do not gain this size advantage until close to maturity. Face shapes are significantly diversified--emphasized especially by coloration and nose shape--and family resemblances are remarkably clear. (I have been surprised at how easy it is to tell apart a group of bints I don’t even know, when I can look at a group of seven young caracals and not be able to tell apart the two I raised!) Their hair is generally rough textured and straight, but a few bints I've encountered have had wavy locks along their necks and backs.
Coloration patterns usually stay like they are at birth, but CPT has had at least two cases in which a bint has lost much of its hair, only to have it grow back in in an entirely different shade and pattern. Almost all bint hair is black at its base, with many hairs “tipped” in various lengths of white, gold, or brown. Tipping occurs in predictable places, although individuals’ patterns and colors vary widely. The most common tipping is on the very tips of the ears, where bints have extra-long tufts of hair. Most bints have a white ridge along the top inside crest of the ear. Many also have round white eyebrows, though the very base of that hair is also black. Other common coloration occurs along the sides and backs of the forelegs, and on the thighs. The hair is usually longer here, often the same length as the ear tufts. Some bints have a white stripe running down the underside of the tail, starting at the joint. Only one CPT bint has a full-length stripe, but several others have ones that run at least one-third the length of the tail. The tail hair is usually longer and thicker near the base than at the end. The last common location of tipping is on the top and back of the head, often “monk-style.” Less common tipping is on bellies, under chins, on the sides of the face, and on the front of legs. CPT has one bint in particular who is almost completely tipped, with the area around his eyes, the tip of his tail, and between his toes as the only untipped areas. While his tipping is very pale blonde, he leaves a more coffee-colored impression because each hair still starts out black at the root. In Asia, a partner program to CPT has in captivity several bints with white chests--not just tipped, but actually white. Others have white feet or muzzles.
Eye color may be linked in some way to other coloration. Most bints have rich reddish-brown to medium chocolate brown eyes. The individuals CPT has which have the most tipping also have a slightly varied eye color: a dark blue-gray ring around the outside, brighter brown and green flecks closer to the pupil, all leaving the impression of hazel.
Bints have a cluster of whisker-like eyebrows above each eye, and additional whiskers along the cheeks in the same places as a cat. The whiskers are thick and sensitive, but are not long enough to provide information to the bint on the width of spaces to help it determine whether or not it can pass through them.
Binturong feet are of interesting structure. The front feet are designed to grasp, dig, climb, and hold and open fruits. The back feet are designed to grip and balance during climbing and to hang from branches with the support of the tail. The pads of the feet are very soft at birth and harden remarkably little over a bint’s lifetime. Each foot has four main toes and an innermost, slightly shorter toe which serves as the opposing thumb when grasping objects which must be braced. When climbing or hanging, the bint uses the toes on its front feet all together, with no opposing digit. The back foot toes, on the other hand, it uses in a two-and-three split, so no one toe carries too much weight. This is easiest to see when the bint hangs straight down by tail and toes alone. He will rotate his hips and ankles so the soles of his rear feet face his tail (up and behind), and will hook the two backmost toes as the additional support for the tail. No adult bint cheerfully hangs only from his tail unless he is planning to drop onto whoever or whatever is below him, and he is in the last stages of planning the drop. Bints also use the rear foot 2/3 toe split when walking on narrow objects, such as a tree branch or a wire. In contrast, most keep their front toes together, even if it means less grip with the front feet. They are capable of bending both sets of feet slightly in from the upper outside edge, so as to effectively fold the foot lengthwise around whatever they are walking on. I have seen on many occasions an adult bint walking and even running on a wire the diameter of a pencil. They are also quite capable of sleeping straddled across such wires or branches, with chin or cheek on the line in front of them, right legs on one side, left on the other, and the tail locked around the support with one or two wraps, just in case. Bint toenails are only semi-retractable. They do not sheath in the way a cat’s do, but the bint does control how far they are extended and how much of the curved nail digs into its goal. Young bints have a hard time learning when and how to use them efficiently, but animals handled a great deal learn to be very gentle during contact with people. One young male I helped raise loves to ride on my shoulders still, and he used to gouge my legs and back as he scaled me to reach my shoulders. Eventually we worked out a method that involves no scratches--he hoists himself partway up by the pockets of my jeans, then I boost him up until he can pull up onto my shoulders. He does not use his claws while standing on my shoulders, and I do not move too quickly, so he doesn’t lose his balance and need to dig in.
Bint noses are cold, black, and wet, much like the average dog’s. Eyelashes are short, thick, and curly. Tongues and gums are pink (I haven’t seen any black markings like some dogs have), and the teeth are standard Carnivore issue. Front canines are around 1.5 cm long, measured from the gum’s edge.
As a baby bint grows, it changes shape. Very small bints retain the pear-shape of all milk-fed babies. Older youth go through growing spurts that cause them to look slender, if not lanky. Before bints can see, they like to stay together with their siblings in a warm pile. As soon as their eyes can really focus (2-3 weeks old), they begin to follow the mom when she leaves them. They begin to tussle with each other a bit, and to play at resisting a bath from mom. At this age, they have an exaggerated startle response to anything moving toward them quickly or from above, especially if it blocks out the light before they can smell it. Usually, they warn of their fear with a growl, and perhaps an outright snarl. Sometimes they skunk. Advanced bints at this age develop their "Ninja noise" vocabulary, making sounds that are similar to those heard in the worst of the bad fighting movies ("Whoaaaaaa...."). They cling tightly to whatever they are able to grasp, earning this stage the nickname of “Velcro bints” by those to lift them and must put them down again.
By four weeks, the bints have a wider range of vocalizations (and volume), and they are getting stronger at play-wrestling. They recognize a variety of scents, and retain memories of the people they encounter for several days. If they are not with the mother and siblings, they seem to enjoy the company of a stuffed animal or a sock, which they wrestle with and pounce on.
At five weeks, their coordination has improved to the point where they can consistently walk without falling or dragging their bellies. They can run in short spurts, hang without fear of falling, and sometimes even climb down from the place they were hanging from. By this time, their vocalizations include a bawling yell for mom, and angry “bark” noise, a “War Cry” (which sounds like a growling, snarling bark), and a soft, rumbling purr. They make these noises at appropriate times, even in play. They are also learning a special bint move which we affectionately call the “duck pounce” or “duck kill” (I don’t know why this name came about, since bints don’t eat ducks...) This advanced bint move involves standing on the hind legs, using the tail for balance, and then slamming down the two front feet simultaneously, all while giving a War Cry. Bints who were pulled from parents very early perform this move on their own, seemingly instinctively. A coordinated bint has a long “hang time” (the amount of time on the hind legs, balanced, before pouncing), and can recover fast enough to repeat the move right away. Older bints can cross a room or cage slamming the ground at every step, and in some cases, leaping while slamming to cover ground faster.
A six to eight week-old bint climbs everything in sight. Trees, den boxes, mom, people, furniture, bookshelves...even up to scaling door frames. Those raised indoors may learn to open cabinets using the handle, to scale up to counter-tops to find the goodies hidden there, and to open doors using the knobs. They can learn to unhook latches, pull pins out of holes to be able to push open doors, peel open wrappers, and lift objects to climb beneath them, especially if a human is kind enough to demonstrate. They can pick up an amazing array of modeled behavior very quickly (a walking rebuke to Thorndike). They have become fairly adept at hanging and even at dropping down onto a flat surface. They also love to establish a sort of running track, around which they can speed. An example of such a track in my house is the circle Annika and Edgar Bint invented. First, they climbed into the swivel chair. If the chair contained a person, it only added to the fun. From the chair arm, they launched to the lamp, hitting it at about the three-foot mark. They scaled the lamp to the top (at about six feet), leaped back down to the back of the chair, ran across it, leaped to a pile of trash bags containing Goodwill stuff, slid down the side of the pile to the nearby bookshelf, pushed off the bookshelf and over the animal carrier case, and were back at the chair base again. The whole circuit took them a while at first, but once they became proficient, they could manage it at breakneck speed. Normally, a climbing bint takes everything slowly, by the mountain climber’s rule--never lifting a foot until the other three are confirmed on secure ground. However, in the case of young bints playing (or the appearance of food), this rule is overlooked.
At CPT, an eight to ten week-old bint can be moved into an outdoor cage. As long as there are other bints for company, the young ones do not seem to mind a change of scenery much. They love to have climbing toys or trees to explore. They also enjoy wading pools, swings and tire swings, hollow tree stumps, etc. CPT has one adult bint with severe scoliosis which prevents her from being able to roughhouse with those her own age. Instead, she is the mother-figure to all upcoming youngsters. She is gentle and nurturing with all of them, and she loves to play with them, albeit her climbing skills are limited.
CPT experiments with babies have led to the conclusion that pulling them from the mothers at around four weeks is ideal. Those who were pulled sooner, other than on the first few days of life, showed no significant improvement in the quality of their bonding with a human mother, or the quality of their interactions with other humans. In fact, they lost time on the mother’s milk and all its benefits. Those babies that were left until six weeks never formed a satisfactory, comfortable relationship with people, and instead are generally afraid of them. While these bints may grow to trust individuals, they are unduly stressed by the presence of strangers, and are upset by being handled when sick or injured. There is no significant difference in the mother’s reaction whether they are pulled at four or six weeks. She will be upset, charging and looking for the infants. Some have knocked over their den boxes, pulled down branches, and, of course, chased the person removing the babies. There are occasions when bints are pulled younger than four weeks, as when the mother does not care for them, or if they develop an illness. In these cases, bonding to people is strong, and the adjustment to playing with other bints takes longer.
Bints younger than four weeks do not have many teeth in yet, so they are usually bottle fed a formula of Goati-lac, bananas, and yogurt, supplemented with Osteoform (calcium), vitaderm (infant vitamins), and Diet Derm (oil). They eat 2-4 ounces four times each day. If an infant is sick or underweight, they may have extra protein and calories added to the formula (like peanut butter), and may be fed additional times each day. As their teeth come in, they move to more solid food. Bananas are almost everyone’s favorites. Most start with a “banana mushie” made of baby oatmeal, a mashed banana, peanut butter, jelly, and some formula. They progress to small pieces of banana, cut grapes, mango, pear, and other soft fruit.
As adults, their diets include all manner of fruits, some vegetables, and some meats. In the wild, part of their role is to process seeds, especially those of the strangler fig. This vine makes up a large part of the canopy of the rain forest, and its seeds cannot germinate without assistance. A process in the bints’ intestines called endozoochory breaks down the outer seed coating and prepares it to begin growing. It is then deposited in a neat pile of fertilizer, usually below or in a convenient host tree.
They need to eat on most days, depending on the weather. They eat more sparingly in the summer (although there’s always room for more ‘nanas) than in the winter, when they need the extra calories. They prefer the sweetest foods, with the exception of their taste for meats. A partial list: apples, melons of all types, cantaloupes, grapes, pears, kiwi, mangos, star fruits, avocados, oranges, grapefruit, nectarines, peaches, cherries, tomatoes, chicken (raw or cooked), mice and rats, beef, fish, some greens (mostly the stems of anything green in their cage except for grass and poison ivy) and any sweets anyone will feed them. Marshmallows are a big hit, as are chocolate muffins, apple pie, and McDonald’s egg nog milkshakes. Never again will I give any binturongs concentrated sugar when I have to share living space with them. When Edgar and Annika were about six weeks old, they teamed up on us on the couch one night. We humans had been foolish enough to think that we could eat lollipops without sharing. After they each finished gnawing the hard candy off the sticks, they walked around for a few minutes licking their sticky lips and paws, seemingly unaffected. Suddenly, Edgar dove across the couch and tackled Annika. She return-pounced, sending them both crashing to the floor. They sped around their “personal indoor track,” climbed to great heights (for them) and leaped, raced across our laps, and would not slow down. When the sugar rush passed almost an hour later, they both drank a lot of water and slept soundly.
Adult binturong behavior is largely predicted by the manner in which the bint was raised. Wild-caught bints are not terribly interested in people beyond their service of bringing food. Even these are not actively aggressive unless cornered, although if a person has angered a bint, he may slyly attempt to urinate or defecate on that person from above. Those bints raised by people tend to remain interactive, although how interactive depends on the individual’s personality and who his human visitors are. Bints remember who raised them and who they knew when they were young if given even minimal contact with these people on a regular basis. Since a bint’s sight is rather poor, his sense of smell is very important to him. When a bint approaches anything new, he will prefer to approach from above, when possible. One young bint named Spike was being raised in a household with a fish tank. He would scale a rocking chair and perch precariously on its back to be able to observe the fishtank from above, although the view was much better from the side (of course, he may have seen them open the top to feed). I have seen individuals climb along the edges and ceiling of cages, in the most circuitous routes, rather than touch the ground, even to get to food. They like to hang down from above to smell the tops of people’s heads as a means of introduction. Even the ones who are accustomed to climbing up or being picked up to greet people like to smell scalps as soon as possible. Because of the sharpness of bint claws and the weight of an adult, some people sit on the ground to accommodate this habit. Most hand-raised bints believe themselves to be lap-pets. Many will begin grooming their humans after the greeting. This may involve flea-hunting on heads or arms, nose-nibbling, ear-snuffling, and general poking about into pockets or shoes, if allowed. With their amazing sense of smell, most can smell a pocket that once held a marshmallow treat at five paces. They are adept at eating while hanging upside down, also, tilting their heads so as to not lose fruit juices.
Aggressive adult behavior is not especially common toward humans, and is seen more often toward mates. Between bints, aggression may take the form of the female snarling and biting when she is in heat, or there may be a fuss over who gets the last of the really good food. For the most part, even feeding is a peaceful activity for bints, with adult males comfortably sharing individual bananas. Most aggression toward humans occurs when a pair has babies (as described above), when a female is preparing to give birth, and if an animal is sick or hurt. The sole pre-birthing aggression experience I have had was when I entered the cage of a binturong named Bashful to clean up. Normally a quiet and shy bint, as her name implies, Bashful instead began growling and barking. I stopped just inside the cage door, surprised by this new attitude. She stood still, the hair on the back of her neck and in a ridge along her spine standing on end as she glowered. Suddenly, she launched off her den box top, and began duck-pouncing across the cage toward me. Being an advanced duck-pouncer, she covered the ground between us in bounds, as she slammed her front feet down and bellowed. I backed quickly out of the cage, and she stopped pursuit several feet short of the door. Her mate, Bok, looked down on me commiseratingly from his position on the furthest tip of the highest limb he could possibly be treed on. Bashful gave birth to three infants that night.
The only other problems with adult aggression which I have heard of stem from an animal associating pain with an individual. In one case, a woman attempted to give a netted bint a shot without other human assistance. Since bints get most shots in their tails, he was able to whirl and bite her. Another case is that of Daniel, who has associated a staff worker with the scent of her ferret, who bit him when he was young, and her dog, who just scared him. He, in turn, bit the woman on the first day he was outdoors in his own cage, when she reached into the den box to get him so she could carry him inside for the night. When he smells her nearby, he still will growl and ridge (raise the hair along his spine). At least he doesn’t skunk anymore. In the one attempt I made to help them make up, he carefully climbed onto her shoulder, sniffed in her ear, and defecated all down the back of her shirt and on her hair. No more reconciliation attempts have been made.
Females which have come into season do not always have mates that behave aggressively towards people. In a few cases, I have seen male bints become wildly affectionate toward people during this time. Some like to climb on people's backs and rub their bellies furiously up and down, and others will grab on and "hump" people's legs like a dog does. Hand-raised bints are not generally shy about their reproductive habits. I have seen bints engaging in sexual activities in a remarkable variety of positions, and regardless of whether or not they have a human audience. I have seen "doggie style" coitus, as well as belly to belly. On a den box, in a tree, on the tire swing...they are very flexible. The most remarkable locale for bint sex I have encountered I was unfortunately unable to actually see being used. I entered the cage of a hand-raised pair, and them female was more friendly than normal. She climbed on my back and was making happy little whuffling noises into my ear. Then she suddenly got much heavier and there were two noses whuffling in my ear as the male mounted her while she was riding on my back. I got a friend outside the cage to confirm that this is what they were doing, and I promptly dumped them off and left the cage so they could have some privacy, as human dignity requires.
Bints are intelligent and trainable. They can be trained to harness walk easily, though many handlers find it easier to just let them ride on their shoulders. They are often taught by zoos to respond to verbal and hand commands for performances. Most hand-raised bints are very eager to please their humans.
Weather changes have a massive effect on the way bints behave. In hot weather, they pant to help cool down, have a reduced appetite, and sleep most of the time. They also consume less meat. They seek out shade under their den boxes or in the trees. They also love to dunk themselves in their wading pools. When the Fall comes, their hair thickens and lengthens. The pads of their feet toughen a bit around the edges, where the hair also grows more thickly. The centers of the pads on their feet do not toughen much, which has led to cold damage (see below). In cold weather, they hole up in their den boxes, usually trying to cram everybody into one box, no matter how crowded and stuffy it is, or how many other, empty boxes there are. Some bints have the unfortunate habit of defecating in these boxes, but even they seem to do this less in the winter. They are more prone to health problems in cold weather, in part because of actual cold damage, and in part because whole groups remain in close proximity for extended periods of time. Bints still make an attempt to get some sun, either by flattening out on the roof of their den boxes, or by stretching out in the grass in the lee of some shelter.
Some of the health problems encountered by these animals are predictable. They have a high instance of dental problems (cavities, gum disease, etc.) as they age. Some older animals develop cataracts, lose hair on the head and tail or have hair break off mid-shaft, and suffer arthritis, especially if they have been declawed. Some infants develop skin problems, like minor staph infections, and bottle-fed infants must be guarded against respiring the milk and developing pneumonia. Young bints seem more susceptible than adults to cage-related problems like mange and roundworms. Bints can learn to eat meat when only seven or eight weeks old, but are very vulnerable to food poisoning while young. In all these areas, the treatment is much the same as for any cat. They handle antibiotics well (especially if they get it in a banana), and most do not mind taking Panacur or Rintal for worms. The standard vaccines used include Fel-V and rabies, though there have been no studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of these. Distemper vaccines given to binturongs have actually caused cases of the disease, so clearly they should be avoided. Some illnesses we have encountered, however, are less predictable and harder to treat than in cats.
First, a bint is very hard to knock out, even using injectable Valium, or a Valium/Ketamine mix. They are slow to come up if they are knocked out completely, as with Isofluorine, so for minor procedures they are generally just moderately sedated. This also reduces the risk of seizures and breathing difficulties in the sedated animals. Blood samples are taken from the jugular, usually involving shaving of a patch of neck in order to see through the thick hair. They are difficult to draw blood from, as their necks are thickly muscled and the veins and arteries buried deeply (for self-preservation?). For human convenience (and safety) other shots can be given in the tail, though near its tip it is fairly sensitive. Shots given in the tough upper part of the tail do not seem to bother them very much, if given with a small needle. Young animals handle these shots rather well, though older bints have been known to respond with a nasty bite if not held or sedated for shots. The act of holding them immobile sometimes upsets them morew than the treatments, as is the case with most wild animals.
Bints are poorly equipped to deal with winter weather, and despite heated den boxes, manage to sustain cold weather damage occasionally even in North Carolina. In the winter of 1995-6, unusually icy and snowy conditions caused record damage at CPT. Bints who remained out of their dens or who got wet and did not dry themselves in their dens ended up with frostbite on toes and tails, including a few severe cases. Three or four lost toes to the cold. In some cases, the animals underwent surgical removal of the toes. In other cases, especially with animals who were wild-caught or older (who would be at higher risk during the surgery and traumatized by additional handling), the toes fell off naturally, and the animals were treated to prevent infection. CPT has found that the homeopathic remedy of calendula is helpful in healing the area around the toes quickly and preventing further damage. In the more severe case of damage to tails, the animals underwent surgery to dock the tail and prevent the further loss of tissue. This occurred only in the young binturongs during this winter, and their success in adapting to life with less of a tail has varied depending on how much of the tail was lost. Edgar lost close to one-third of his tail, and for a solid month he held it out stiffly behind him, allowing it to help with balance but not gripping, relying only on his feet for purchase. He began using his tail gingerly in the second month after surgery, and now will use it to help hang, though it is not as sensitive or agile as the other bints’ tails. Melon (named when she was a bald baby) lost close to half of her tail, and she has had some difficulty adapting. She was placed back in her original cage on a trial basis after surgery, but she had trouble hanging on to her tree and the tall fence without falling. Before she could get hurt, she was transferred to a smaller, lower cage with climbing toys and swings to help her regain what use she could get from her tail. She is now a capable climber, but her grip does not compare to the other bints’. She is still easily pushed off balance by other bints on branches and smooth surfaces. Her own balance is excellent, but her ability to cling to a surface has been severely curbed. Once she climbs to a safe place in her tree, she only comes down to eat or get in a warm den box, if necessary.
The most devastating problem faced by the bints has been an odd disorder faced only by the five to eight week-old bints, usually shortly after their first set of shots. The baby suddenly develops a palsy or shake, starting in the legs and spreading to the whole body. In some cases, the animal has recovered sufficiently to be successfully caged outdoors with others, but at times of high stress or cold weather, the animals sometimes have a sort of relapse involving shaking and difficulty moving with any speed, strength, or balance. There has been significant hair loss or breakage associated with this condition also. I suspect it is caused by some inability to properly process some necessary vitamin. In all cases, the hair has grown back in, thick and very fuzzy, albeit a different texture and color than the original hair. The group of animals with this disorder (about 1.5 years old) are behaviorally different from the other unaffected bints, too. They tend to not be part of the group in the tree, but are rather alone in their den box. Sometimes the opposite occurs; everyone else is in their box or eating, and the shaky one is alone in the tree. We cannot assume, then, that the isolation is due to their inability to climb and participate in the group life within the cage. As for the cause of this disorder, CPT has been unable to establish a credible connection between the vaccination shots and the disorder. There may also be a genetic predisposition, as two of the three affected bints are siblings, and the third is a cousin. Since the Trust has hired a part-time staff veterinarian in the last few years, there may have been additional progress made on this.
On a more positive note, binturongs have an interesting trait that may help them heal themselves. Their saliva has remarkably antiseptic qualities, more so than any other animal I have ever worked with. While most animals benefit from licking their wounds, the bints also lick each others’ wounds, and wounds they spot on people. Having conducted several only tenuously scientific experiments using Daniel and Josh as lickers, I have been amazed at the difference their tending made to the speed with which the wound healed. In every case, the licked part of cuts and scratches healed literally overnight, while unlicked parts often took several days longer to heal. The amount of scarring was also reduced, and as an individual prone to keyloid scars (big, bumpy scarring from minor injuries), I can honestly say that no bint-licked place I was injured ever scarred. At all. Though cats and dogs also have some of these qualities in their saliva, I have never seen such an extreme reaction by healing fast in my work with them. I look forward to photographing the effects next time to document the difference between treated and untreated cuts.
This section is purely whimsical. A series of fun case studies:
Daniel is a very gentle bint who has a terrible fear of ferrets and dogs. He has associated them with one staff worker, whom he has bitten and attacked several times. He and I have a routine--when I visit, I let him out into the safety cage so I don’t get mauled by the other excited bints. He will lay in my lap for a tummy scratch, rest across my shoulders, and snuffle in my ears. He always smells the top of my head first, usually by exiting his cage over the open door instead of through it. He has learned to scale me without using nails above the jeans line (a tough lesson for us both). He had a bout with roundworms recently, and when regular doses of Rintal didn’t do it, he came back home with me (at 9 months old) to get better and gain some weight. Where do you keep a half-grown bint in an apartment? In the half bathroom, of course. After five days of worming meds, he got back an appetite for Friskies Kitten food and bananas. Yum. He also learned to untie the string holding shut the bathroom cabinet, how to turn on the water in the sink, and how to open the washing machine. He has a younger brother (different litters) who was still living with me at the time, so I let them play after Daniel felt better. Joshua is a loud-mouth, so he screamed every time Daniel touched him, but Daniel learned to ignore that. I videoed them together during the two days they played, and in the half-darkness you can see them run up the stairs together, wrestle, roll down the stairs in a ball, slam into the wall across from the steps, laugh, and get up and run up again. When Daniel got tired, he would go into the bathroom and push the door shut on Josh. Daniel is very clever, but I’m afraid he’s also a “Mama’s Boy.” He and his sister Panama pulled the pin on their feeding slot door one evening and escaped. When they were found, his sister was out wandering and enjoying herself, but Daniel had actually broken into the safety cage in an effort to return home. It took the staff a while to notice the pin out of the slot--they’d thought the escape artists came through the door into the safety cage before getting out.
Joshua lived with us for just over sixteen weeks, twice the normal age for a baby to stay with a foster mom. He was a winter baby, so he needed the extra time indoors rather than get too cold outside. By five weeks, Josh would eat any solid, sliced fruit set before him except for bananas. He hated bananas. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him by name and all the local teenagers and college professors came to visit most days. When one woman came to visit Josh almost two months after he moved outdoors, he remembered her and ran right up to her. Josh is not only an excellent climber, but also an escape artist. His first major escape was through a hole he made in the side of his playpen (topped with shelving boards to dissuade leaving). We found him in the dryer. He had opened the door and climbed in with the warm clothes. The second escape was also through the top of the pen. We came home and found the living room trashed. The seven-foot lamp was on its side and bashed in, a climbing pole was laying over on the stairs, the coffee table was cleaned off (not the condition we left it in), and the garbage can was overturned and rooted through. The crib planks had been supplemented by books, which were in a heap on the floor. The kitchen floor was decorated by chocolate and marshmallow footprints, and the open cabinet doors were exposing littered shelves of empty Ho-Ho wrappers. The lightly sampled peanut-butter crackers were cast aside near the Ho-Ho box and marshmallow bag. The guilty party was asleep at the top of the stairs in the (luckily) dirty laundry pile. Josh learned to open cabinets as a method of reaching the countertops (and the chocolate). This distressed the staff member who kept him as a day camper just before he moved outside. She called us to report, “He opened the cabinet doors. No, I don’t think you do understand. He used the handles.” He was able to scale the door frames in an impressive manner by eleven weeks. He was already significantly larger than his littermate, Tristan, when they were pulled at three-and-a-half weeks. After Tristan battled food poisoning, Josh more than doubled him in weight and size. Josh, unlike Daniel, had an easy transition to outdoors life, and has been moved in with Daniel and company. He is enormous. Tristan has been relegated to breaking in the new eight-week old kids moving outside, since he is so much closer to their size.
Kira is a gentle adult bint who seemed normal in her youth. After she was moved outside, she began to have trouble climbing and got “the shakes.” She developed a gradually worsening case of scoliosis which led to her becoming an indoor bint for treatment. She has reacted poorly when placed outdoors in a cage, though she enjoys the company of other bints. When she is left outside, she is prone to sudden attacks of panic, and she will climb the fence and get stuck. Eventually, she falls. Indoors, she has her own room, and is litterbox trained. She loves to spend time with new young bints, especially ones old enough to play. She can perform a modified duck-pounce and she tussles with them very gently. She hates ocelots and baths, and has learned to drive the ferret away quickly. Unlike the outdoors bints, Kira is bothered by fleas, which are normally only interested in baby bints or humans. She remembers the other bints she knows, and she gets excited when visited by a human who has spent time with her friends--the ones her age or the younger ones she helped raise. Her memory is excellent, as she reacts with great excitement to familiar scents, and not at all to bints she hasn’t met.
Some Housing Experiments
The Frat house is a successful collection of six adult males housed together. They do not fight, and seem to enjoy each other’s company. There is also a cage of seven young bints (1.5 years old), both male and female, who live together and play in harmony. Unfortunately, they will have to be separated soon, so relatives don’t have offspring.
We have one bint, Disney, who fell so hard for his sister that he refused every other mate, and in fact, beat them up. We finally tried him with another female, the toughest of the lot of young ones, selecting her without regard to lineage, since he was vasectomized. After almost two years alone, he accepted the new female remarkably well, and she quickly established her own territory in the cage. We were so pleased with ourselves...until we checked the lineages and found that she was also his sister.