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Baby ‘bearcats’ that smell like buttered popcorn just born at Zoo Atlanta. Meet them

The three newest members of Zoo Atlanta smell like buttered popcorn and weigh slightly less than a pound each, zoo officials say. They’re baby binturongs, also called bintlets.

The three bintlets were born Aug. 31 to mother Bramble and father Baloo, who are part of a vulnerable species native to Southeast and South Asia, Zoo Atlanta said in a Sept. 8 news release.

“Zoo Atlanta was so excited to see Bramble and Baloo introduced in 2020, and we’re doubly excited to welcome their first bintlets,” Jennifer Mickelberg, vice president of collections and conservation, said in the release.

At first, Bramble didn’t accept her three offspring, the zoo said. Now, two of her bintlets have been reunited with her and are nursing. Zookeepers hope the third baby will join Bramble and his siblings in coming weeks.

“Thanks to years of commitment and positive reinforcement training, the Zoo’s Carnivore and Veterinary Teams were able to train Bramble to participate in voluntary ultrasounds to confirm and monitor her pregnancy,” officials said in the release.”

The bintlets are currently about the size of a squirrel and were born blind, the zoo said. The long-tailed, carnivorous species can grow up to 3 feet, about the size of a coyote, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Because of their blindness, which is common for newborns in the species, and dependency on their mother, the binturongs won’t be introduced to the outdoor habitat of the zoo’s Complex Carnivores zone for several weeks, Zoo Atlanta said in the release.

Binturongs are known as “bearcats” for their resemblances to both bears and cats, but they aren’t part of either family, the zoo said. They’re most closely related to civets.

The AZA Species Survival Plan recommended Bramble and Baloo mate as part of efforts to preserve the “genetic diversity and long-term population sustainability of the species in human care,” the zoo said.

The species is classified as vulnerable. Its greatest threat is loss of habitat, particularly as land is cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, the zoo said.

“Other threats include the pet trade and hunting for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some parts of their range,” officials said in the release.

Binturongs give off a popcorn-like scent because “their urine contains 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, the chemical compound that gives popcorn its aroma,” according to the Smithsonian.

The species can be “noisy,” the Smithsonian says.

“They can snort, chuckle or even purr when they are pleased or content,” according to the Smithsonian’s website. “They signal displeasure, fear or aggression with cat-like screams, hisses, low grunts and howls.”

The three binturongs are the first to be born at Zoo Atlanta, according to the release.

“Many of our visitors have never heard of or seen a binturong, so we have a valuable opportunity to introduce a species that is not only intrinsically valuable in its own right in its wild ecosystem, but which also has an important conservation message to share,” Mickelberg said.

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