An Endangered Enigma

It has a prehensile tail that it uses as a pillow when needed, purrs and cleans itself like a cat, and marks its territory with a scent that smells like buttered popcorn!

Still trying to figure out what I’m talking about? Here’s another clue…it makes very good coffee! Introducing the Arctictis binturong!

A Living Coffee-maker

Despite being called a ‘Bearcat’ in some parts of Asia, this omnivorous mammal is neither related to bears nor cats, but to the Palm Civets of Asia. In parts of South East Asia, binturongs are used along with the Common Palm civets to make ‘kopi luwak’ or civet coffee.

The coffee beans are processed while passing through the digestive tract of this animal and are collected after elimination and then brewed. In Indonesia, the ‘luwak’ farmers have been known to raise captive binturongs for this purpose so imagine this, your espresso machine tied up and growing old with you!

The Binturong is protected by law and is given the highest conservation status, listed under Schedule I of The Wild Life Protection Act of India, considering it is secretly considered a delicacy in some parts of North East India!

Now coming to the buttered popcorn part. The binturong has oil glands under the tail that are used to leave behind this popcorn smell on trees either to attract or warn. They have very few natural threats, but when threatened, they are known to initially urinate or defecate. Then plan B is to bare all teeth and snarl, and even if plan B fails then it’s on to plan C… use powerful jaws and teeth to bite and tear apart.

Baby wars

A weird fact observed in baby binturongs or binlets is that they practice teat ownership; each baby chooses a certain teat and sticks with it. The theory is that some teats produce milk with a higher fat content than others, making them more desirable. If a binlet deviates from the rule, a fight breaks out!

Alive, but critical

The binturong is an important agent for seed dispersal but their environment is fading away. 40% of the forest lost in Indonesia between 2000 and 2012 was lost to logging. Large-scale deforestation happens in India as well, and if that isn’t enough, well we got more! We like to keep them as pets, we still believe in traditional medicine made from them and not to forget the delicacy part. The species is listed as Critically Endangered in China.

But all is not lost!  ABConservation, a French NGO has chosen the binturong for its mission and declares that it is the only association in the world entirely dedicated to the study and protection of the Arctictis binturong. The organization focuses on making the binturong better known to the public through zoo programs, and by sponsoring an annual World Binturong Day on May 9th.

Now, for a nice cup of coffee!

 Edited by Dominic D’Cruz