The bearcat is neither a bear nor a cat, but is the common English word for the Malaysian “Binturong” (Arctictis binturong). It is a type of civet in the same family as the mongoose that lives in the trees of tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia. Its fur is black with gray, white, or gold tips. It can weigh 30-40 pounds and measures 46-73 inches long (which is almost 50% tail!).
The bearcat is one of only two carnivores to have a prehensile tail. This means its tail can be used to grip things and hang from branches. It can also be used for braking when descending a tree headfirst, and for maintaining balance.
Bearcats’ feet are also interesting structures. The front feet are designed to grasp, dig, climb, hold, and open fruit. The back feet are designed to grip and balance. Each foot has four main toes and an innermost, slightly shorter toe, which serves as the opposing thumb. When climbing or hanging, the bearcat uses the toes on the front feet all together, with no opposing digit. The back foot, however uses a two-and-three split, so no one toe carries too much weight. It can also rotate its hips and ankles so the soles of its rear feet face its tail (up and behind) and will hook the two back most toes as additional support for the tail.
An interesting trait helps bearcats heal themselves. Their saliva has remarkable antiseptic qualities. While most animals benefit from licking their own wounds and wounds they spot on people. Several scientific studies confirm that licked parts of cuts and scratches healed literally overnight, while un-licked parts took several days. Also, the amount of scarring was greatly reduced.
In the wild, the bearcat plays a key role in processing seeds, especially those of the Strangler Fig. This vine makes up a large part of the canopy of the rain forest, but its seed cannot germinate without assistance. A process in the bearcat’s intestines called endozochory breaks down the outer seed coating and prepares it to begin growing. It is then deposited usually below, or in a convenient host tree.
At first glance, the bearcat might look like a comic coda to creation, or a freak of evolution. Yet, as science has studied this unique animal, it has found that it was specifically designed and given a precise role to play in its environment. It is wonderfully equipped for the task God called it to do. What appear to be random parts of the body thrown together as an afterthought, actually go together well to give the bearcat all the tools he needs to thrive in his environment.
Originally published in the September/October 2006 Think and Believe newsletter.