Taronga is celebrating the arrival of a baby Binturong, the secretive Asian ‘bear-cat', which is the first to be bred at the Zoo since they were first displayed in the 1950s.
Born on April 1, 2007, the female cub named ‘Indah' meaning ‘beautiful' in Malay was a lovely April Fools Day surprise for Taronga's Exotic Mammals Keepers who had worked hard with the Binturong's parents, ‘Pepper' and ‘Emas', which arrived from Singapore Zoo in 2005 to lead Taronga's breeding program.
Exotic Mammals Keeper, Lisa Abra, said: "Although Taronga has displayed Binturongs since the late 1950s, Indah is the first Binturong to be born at the Zoo. She is a delightful little female and takes after her mother, ‘Pepper' with her inquisitive and gregarious nature."
The new arrival has just started to venture from her warm nest box to explore her lush exhibit in Taronga's huge rainforest exhibit, ‘Wild Asia', which is home to over 650 animals from fish to Asian Elephants.
"Visitors who are unsure of where to catch a glimpse of the Binturong family may smell them first as they are famous for their strong odour which is described as a cross between burnt popcorn and corn chips. Indah is doing exceptionally well, she is already exploring the nooks and crannies of her exhibit. She instinctively knows how to use her prehensile tail which she is using for extra grip as she makes her way along the tree branches," said Lisa.
Being tree-dwellers, a Binturong's tail is its most important climbing tool and comes especially equipped with a leathery patch at the end for extra traction. Even when sleeping sprawled out and legs dangling, a Binturong's tail is anchored securely around a branch like a living climber's tether.
Taronga veterinarians have also given little Indah a clean bill of health after completing her eight week examination which included a vaccination and weight check. She now tips the scales at 1.7 kilograms after recently discovering the delights of solid food including kiwi fruit, pears, rock melon, sweet potato, apple and her favourite tasty treat, grapes.
The birth of the Binturong is the latest breeding success in Taronga's Wild Asia which showcases many endangered rainforest creatures and educates visitors about their dwindling habitat. The first birth at Wild Asia was a beautiful Spotted Deer, named ‘Melita' which arrived in September, 2005 shortly after the precinct officially opened. Wild Asia is the crowning glory of Taronga's 12 year Master Plan redevelopment, with over 650 exotic animal species living among and 17, 500 plants from tiny grasses and shrubs to soaring fig trees.
Binturongs are found in southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and on Palawan Island. They are highly endangered in parts of their range and threatened or vulnerable in others due to habitat destruction and poaching for use as a delicacy and in medicine as Asia's rainforest vanish from human impact.
Taronga Zoo is committed to the conservation of Asian animals and support a range of projects in the region including monitoring the illegal killing of Asian Elephants, rehabilitation programs for endangered Silvery Gibbons that have been wrenched from their parents for the pet trade in Sumatra as well as supporting programs for the bright-coloured Asian Turtles, now critically endangered by the restaurant trade in some Asian countries.
It is expected that many people will want to become a Zoo Parent of little Indah. By adopting a wild child, funds assist with the Zoo's food and veterinary costs which enable more money to be poured into vital wildlife conservation and research projects. For more information visit www.zoo.nsw.gov.au
Taronga and Western Plains Zoos care for 4000 animals from over 350 species, provide conservation messages to over 1.5 million visitors and conservation education to over 100,000 school students annually. The Zoos also conduct a huge range of conservation research, breeding and in situ projects from Antarctica to Mongolia and throughout Australia and Asia, while providing wildlife health services to thousands of native animals each year.
Sometimes called the ‘bearcat', the Binturong is a member of the order Viverridae, as are meerkats and mongooses. They are closer still to the palm civet, being in the same sub-family.
The Binturong is mainly active at night and live in the trees. Although they are seen sunning themselves lying along branches on their stomach with all four limbs hanging down. In this position only their prehensile tail is gripping the branch.
An adult Binturong weighs between 18 - 27 kilograms, growing up to 97 centimetres in length with thick, course black shaggy hair on the body and grey fur on the ears. Their tail adds a further 60 - 89 centimetres and is used for support in climbing and as a brake when moving rapidly head-first down trees. Their climbing ability is further aided by sharp, curved claws and soft pads on their feet.
Using its excellent sight and hearing, the Binturong makes grunting and hissing sounds when moving through the forest. If threatened, it will make a high pitched scream similar to a domestic cat. The smell emitted by a Binturong has been compared to a cross between popcorn and corn chips! They use this odour to scent mark their territory.
Breeding and lifecycle
The Binturong is mature at two years of age. After a gestation period of 81-99 days up to six young are produced, although the typical number of offspring born at a time is two or one. Newborns weigh about 400 grams and will suckle for eight weeks. Both parents care for the young.
Habitat and Distribution
Although their numbers are low, the Binturong has a wide distribution in the tropical and sub-tropical forests of south east Asia. They are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Palaway Island, Burma, Indo-China, Sumatra, Thailand, Borneo and perhaps Nepal.
Binturongs are omnivorous with a diet that mainly consists of fruit supplemented with bird's eggs, birds, small mammals and carrion. By passing undigested seeds they assist in seed dispersal throughout the forest.
Threats to Survival
Habitat destruction and hunting are considered the main threats to the Binturong. They are considered a delicacy by some indigenous people, with their flesh though to also have medicinal properties.
Taronga's Binturong Family
‘Indah' is the first Binturong to be born at Taronga Zoo despite having displayed the species since the late 1950s or early 1960s.
The parents ‘Pepper' and ‘Emas' both arrived from Singapore Zoo in September and August 2005, and although Pepper has had previous young, ‘Emas' meaning ‘gold' in Malay is a first time father.
By exhibiting this species, at the new Wild Asia, Taronga hopes to increase the public awareness about this unusual species and highlight their threatened status and the destruction of their rainforest habitat.
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