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Binturong arrives at Brit Spaugh Zoo
zoo slt bearcat
An adult binturong, or Asian bearcat, arrived at Brit Spaugh Zoo Wednesday. Because of safety protocols, it probably won't be available for public viewing until February.


What has the head of a cat, the body of a bear — and smells like freshly popped popcorn?

That would be a binturong (BIN-tu-rong), commonly known as an Asian bearcat, and it’s the newest animal at Great Bend’s Brit Spaugh Zoo.

The binturong arrived Wednesday afternoon from Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, N.D. Great Bend Zoo Director Scott Gregory said the animal has a clean bill of heath, but will have to remain in quarantine for several weeks before it can move to a public exhibit. Sometime next year, it will be on display near the jaguar exhibit.

The binturong has been compared to an animal that might come from a Dr Seuss creation. It has stiff white whiskers, shaggy black hair and a prehensile tail. And they do indeed smell like fresh popcorn, Gregory said, although the public won’t be allowed close enough to inhale.

Dakota Zoo accepted a younger binturong from Riverside Zoo in Scottsbluff, Neb., earlier this year. The Star Herald in Scottsbluff reported about 100 of Riverside Zoo’s animals were sent to other AZA accredited zoos because the Nebraska zoo was facing budget cuts. Great Bend’s zoo is not yet AZA accredited, but is working toward that goal. A zookeeper from Bismarck checked out the zoo here and delivered the 17-year-old binturong, named Norman. It is expected to live to be about 25 years old.

"I said when I first came here I wanted to get animals most people haven’t seen," Gregory said. "When people hear we have a new binturong, the first thing they say it, ‘What’s a binturong?’ That’s the reaction I want — it’s something unusual."

The animals are natives of the rain forests in Southeast Asia. Their bodies grow two to three feet long, and their tails add another two to three feet to their length. Classed as carnivores, they eat mostly fruit. According to the San Diego Zoo’s website, "They are related to civets and fossas but look more like gigantic dust mops. ... Their long ear tufts and reddish brown eyes give them an endearing appearance but it’s one that isn’t seen very often in the wild by humans."

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