Is it a bear? Is it a cat? New animal arrives at Zoo Atlanta

Is it a bear? Is it a cat? New animal arrives at Zoo Atlanta
Baloo, a 1-year-old male binturong at Zoo Atlanta

There’s a new animal roaming Zoo Atlanta, but what is it?

Zoo Atlanta welcomed Baloo, a 1-year-old male binturong, to the animal population. A recent arrival from the Brookfield Zoo, Baloo is now exploring his new home in the Zoo’s Complex Carnivores zone.

Also known as “bearcats” because of their physical resemblances to both, binturongs are neither bears nor cats, but are instead most closely related to civets. Binturongs are also distinctive in that they are one of only two members of the order carnivora to feature a prehensile tail.

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“We’re very excited to welcome Baloo to Zoo Atlanta," said Jennifer Mickelberg, vice president of collections and conservation for Zoo Atlanta. "While many of our guests visit the zoo to experience seeing the animals that almost everyone is familiar with, we always look forward to acquainting them with species they may have less knowledge of. As an ambassador for his species, Baloo also gives us a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the palm oil crisis, which is an urgent conservation challenge for wildlife in many parts of the world, but particularly in the binturong’s native range.”

Native to southern and southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and parts of China, binturongs are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their most pressing threat is habitat loss for conversion to agriculture, especially for palm oil plantations. Other threats include the pet trade and hunting for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some parts of their range.

Processed from the fruit of the African oil palm tree and harvested worldwide in warm and temperate climates, palm oil is one of the planet’s most commonplace commodities. It is found in over half of all household products, from foods and beverages to toothpaste, shampoo and pet food. Some of the planet’s most concentrated regions of palm oil production are in southeast Asia, and these unsustainable activities are resulting in dramatic population declines for numerous animal species.