They look like a mashup of some of your favorite animals: a bear and a cat with a hint of monkey. Their name is fun to say. And they smell like popcorn! What's not to love about binturongs?
Even better, what's not to love about binturong cubs? On September 19, our female Vivvy gave birth to yet-to-be-named twins. The two are now part of a tradition at Brookfield Zoo, but it's a new one. Vivvy came to us from Prague in 2013, while her mate Anton arrived from Germany the year before. In September 2014, we were proud to welcome Lemuel, the breeding pair's first offspring and our first binturong birth in decades. (Lemuel is now paired for breeding at Boise Zoo in Idaho.) Jaye and Jenna were born here in April 2015 and Cala in February 2016.
Although they are known as "bearcats" because of their appearance, binturongs belong neither to the bear nor the cat family. They are vivverids, a family that also includes civets and genets. And it's true about the popcorn scent. Many people say the odor binturongs emit from glands under their tail is reminiscent of buttered popcorn or corn chips. Binturongs use this scent to mark territory and attract mates.
Sadly, wild binturong populations are threatened due to dramatic habitat destruction in their native Asian rain forests. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as vulnerable in the wild. The Chicago Zoological Society is one of only a few institutions working to increase binturong numbers. We are proud that Carol Sodaro, our associate curator of carnivores, serves as the program leader of the Binturong Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She is also the studbook keeper for binturongs, tracking the family history of all binturongs managed in zoos that are accredited by the Association. With these two roles, it is her responsibility to keep the population of zoo binturongs as robust and genetically diverse as possible.
The cubs will certainly add genetic diversity to the zoo population. They began making their public debut incrementally- a little more time on exhibit each day- at around six weeks of age. Today, they're ready for your visit in Clouded Leopard Rain Forest.
Note: This article originally appeared in Gateways, the member magazine of Brookfield Zoo.