Ralph is a senior citizen
Last week I finally got to get inside the binturong enclosures to do some cleaning. I guess that doesn't sound so exciting, seeing as how I either walked around enclosures picking up animal waste or fending off too-friendly binturongs. However, I was excited. We have over a dozen binturongs at the sanctuary, and if you don't know what a binturong is, then that's ok because you're reading this now. The binturong (Arctictis binturong
), is an arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammal from Southeast Asia that has been very poorly studied. These guys are mostly fruit eaters, though they are still grouped with the carnivores because of their carnassial teeth. However, they are opportunistic feeders and will eat small mammals, fish, eggs, etc. They are one of the most important species in promoting rainforest species, especially the Strangler Fig. This tree can only take root after the fruit passes through the system of the binturong, as the dense seed coat will not allow germination and only the binturong GI tract can soften this coat (there is also a bird in Australia responsible for the same thing). "Bints," as we call them, have tufted ears, coarse black fur, and prehensile tails.
I took this photo from Wikipedia because I have yet to get a full-body shot of any of ours. These guys have nicknames like "Asian Bearcat" but they are not bears nor cats. They are a close relative of the mongoose family, as well as skunks and weasels. However, the binturongs smell like corn chips. I'm not kidding! I don't have warped olfactory signals...they really smell like Fritos. Come out for a tour and you will smell it!
Cage cleaning is very simple. At Carolina Tiger Rescue, each animal is grouped into an aggression level. Binturongs are Level 1, meaning they are generally non-aggressive (but there is one named Coda who really pushes that description). Level 2 are the small cats; Level 3's are Keeper Only (meaning only the keepers go into these enclosures, for whatever reason); and Level 4 are the tigers and kinkajous, and no one goes into an enclosure with one of these animals in it at the same time. Bints are generally lazy or overly friendly, so a team of two enter the enclosure with one person cleaning and one person guarding. Communication is essential in this process, even with a lazy binturong, for at all times must both individuals know where the other is as well as know where the animal(s) is/are. Cage cleaning looks like this:
Here, keeper Jess and volunteer Ashleigh work together, one person cleaning and one person guarding Kiowa the caracal. She obviously doesn't care, but it is so important to be ready for anything (I have previously mentioned their amazing claws). Keeper Lenore and I used the same methods last week to clean each binturong enclosure. Although cage cleaning is strictly business- no visiting- I had a heck of a time warding off Shroom and El Grande, our two extremely friendly binturongs. The entire time I was guarding Lenore, both of these guys were insistant upon getting as close as possible so they could see what we were doing and possibly help. Shroom is very strange, as he is not arboreal, and he just wanted to see what was up as Lenore and I bustled around cleaning up after him (yes, he is a male). Whenever someone cleans, new enrichment is brought into the enclosure and old enrichment taken out (it is only enrichment as long as it's a novelty). Shroom was very pleased that we moved around his plastic kiddie slide (he slides down it!). After each cage is cleaned, we back out of the enclosure and never take our eyes off of the animal.
El Grande (above), on the other hand, was foaming at the mouth by the time Lenore and I got into his enlcosure. He was SO EXCITED to see us and spent the entire time testing my rookie guarding skills. He ran along his beams (above the ground because he is arboreal) trying to get past me so he could climb onto my head. Apparently at one point he developed this habit, but Carolina Tiger Rescue is a no-touch facility and I was not about to let this fifty-pound corn chip rake my face off in happiness. If you've ever seen Ninja Cat on Youtube, El Grande is exactly like that cat-- one second he was five feet from my guarding tools, the next he was in my personal bubble trying to get past me. Don't let his eagerness fool you- they get lots of lovin'. El Grande is the most spoiled bint on the compound and has a holiday wreath on his door, from his adoptive parents, to prove it.
This is what Ralph does. All day. Sometimes volunteers think he is dead. I have.
Cleaning is pretty easy, though it does take some time. We always get in and out as quickly as possible for safety as well as placing as little stress on the animals as possible. It was fun to get in some time with the little guys, though afterward I had the strangest craving for corn chips.