Summerfield Zoo hopes binturong will become animal ‘ambassador’

By Jane Charmelo

As proud as a new dad, Summerfield Zoo owner Rick Anderson is excited to announce a new addition to the family.

His name is Orville and is still a “binlet” at roughly 10 weeks old.

Orville is a binturong (also called a bearcat), which is neither a bear nor a cat, and is a native of Southeast Asia, where the mammal can be found in the rain forests, according to National Geographic, which also states that the omnivorous mammal belongs to a family of carnivores that also includes civets.”

“They’re super cool animals,” Anderson said,” adding that he was able to acquire Orville from a zoo in Georgia, where he went to bring Orville home.

He said he was “always keeping my eyes open” to add one to the zoo, and found out about Orville through the Georgia zoo’s director.

While traveling home with the binlet, the zoo owner continued, he had to keep Orville in an incubator, because they “have to be kept really warm,” adding that the incubator was kept at 87 degrees.

More about the binturong

The binturong (Arctictis binturong) has a prehensile tail, National Geographic notes, which allows the animal to grab onto branches; it hangs out in the treetops. It’s diet consists of insects, birds and fruit.

The binturong is known for having a scent that smells like popcorn, which National Geographic explains is used to mark its territory and also to attract a mate.

It can live as long as 18 years in the wild, averages 2.3-2.8 feet in length and can weigh anywhere from 24 to 71 pounds.

The Smithsonian National Zoo also describes the binturong as looking like a “mask-less raccoon,” and it lives a fairly solitary life. Mothers (gestation lasts roughly 90-92 days) stay with their young until they are about 6 to 8 weeks old. The baby binturong is called a “binlet.”

“They’re very important for rain forests, because they help germinate strangler fig [tree] seeds” in their habitat, Anderson noted.

And while the binturong is not endangered, the zoo owner said they are “vulnerable; a couple of steps from endangered.”

“I already knew a lot about them,” he mentioned, but “I did more research, too.”

The new arrival

Anderson said that as of press time, Orville is “still taking a bottle four times a day,” but is starting to eat wet puppy chow, cut-up grapes and mashed bananas.

He is setting his sights on helping Orville become an animal “ambassador” for the species.

When asked how an animal becomes an ambassador, Anderson responded that temperament and personality are the key factors in choosing an animal to represent its species, and “how they react to people being around them.”

“Right now he’s great with people,” he continued. “He started going out for animal talks. Right now he is small and would sit in my lap.”

However, Anderson said realistically, as some animals get older, they may not be suitable for the job anymore, but he is hoping Orville continues his role as an animal ambassador.

“We assess that constantly, he said of his animal ambassadors.”

Summerfield Zoo background

Anderson said the zoo—which he estimates has about 200 animals—has been open to the public for about 20 years. Before that, it was a horse farm, “Then we started taking in exotic animals.”

He was getting requests to take in “discarded” animals, such as emus and pot-bellied pigs, and recalled starting to get requests to take in an alligator, monkey and a serval, among other animals, “animals that are not supposed to be pets.”

“It kind of snowballed. It turned into a full-fledged zoo,” the zoo owner recalled, explaining that he had grown up with animals all his life, and his grandparents had owned a horse farm.

At the same time, though he had worked around animals, once the zoo started adding more animals, “There was a lot of learning along the way.”

When asked if he has fallen in love with Orville, Anderson responded simply, “We already have.”

Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for children. All proceeds go toward care of the animals—many of which are rescues.

Summerfield Zoo is located at 3088 Flora Road, Belvidere. For more information about hours, volunteer and internship opportunities, the petting zoo and more, visit

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