ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for World Binturong Day

Happy World Binturong Day, celebrated annually on the 2nd Saturday in May!

The Binturong, also known as the Bearcat (Arctictis binturong, the only living member of its genus) is a member of the Viverridae family, a clade of feliform mammals that also includes civets, genets, and oyans. It is native to South and Southeast Asia, and perhaps best known for the scent emitted from its musk glands smelling like popcorn!

Binturong in Overloon.jpg
Binturong (Arctictis binturong)
TassiloRau [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Unfortunately, it is also a threatened species, currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The second Saturday in May has therefore been designated as World Binturong Day, an event dedicated to spreading awareness and promoting conservation.

Binturong, c. 1803-1818
Anonymous Chinese artist
William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings
National Museum of Singapore

This watercolor of a Binturong is from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, a collection of 477 illustrations of native biota of the Malay Peninsula by anonymous Chinese artists. These were commissioned by William Farquhar (1774-1839), a Scottish colonial administrator for the East India Company who served as Resident of Malacca from 1803-1818. The collection currently resides at the National Museum of Singapore, and was published in its entirety in a 2010 book:

The binturong illustration and Farqhar’s role in the animal’s entry into European science are also discussed in the book:

The discovery by Farquhar of the equally well known Malaysian mammal, the binturong or bearcat, Arctictis binturong (Raffles), is a similar story to that of the tapir, except that in this case the name of the animal came to be associated with Raffles. Farquhar had sent an account of the binturong, together with a specimen and a drawing, to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, possibly as part of the donations made on 1 April 1818. The account was never published by the Society, but Raffles obtained a detailed description of the animal directly from Farquhar, which he published in his “Descriptive Catalogue” (Trans. Linn. Soc., Vol. XIII, pp. 253-4). Farquhar had kept a binturong at Melaka for many years, and had fed it on vegetables and plantains, as well as eggs and fowls’ heads. If the date given in the “Descriptive Catalogue” is correct, then he must have had another one at Singapore in 1819, since this was the first binturong that Raffles saw, presumably in June of that year, when he returned briefly to Singapore. The account of the animal in the “Descriptive Catalogue” was sent to England from Bengkulu in the ship Mary in March 1820, and was read to the Linnean Society of London on 5 December 1820. However, the French naturalist, Alfred Duvaucel, after examining a living animal in the Menagerie of the Governor-General at Barakpur in 1818, sent a drawing and description of it to Paris, where it was defined as a genus by M. Valenciennes, and subsequently figured by Frédéric Cuvier in the collaborative work, Histoire naturelle des Mammifères … (Paris, 1819-42).

Raffles was able to examine a second individual at Singapore in January 1823, when he informed Dr Thomas Horsfield in London that it conformed exactly to Farquhar’s description as printed in the “Descriptive Catalogue”. He suggested that the American naturalist might include a description of the animal in his Zoological Researches in Java, and the Neighbouring Islands (London, 1821-24), based on a drawing he had recently sent to the surgeon Sir Everard Home. In a subsequent letter from Singapore, dated 20 April 1823, Raffles informed Horsfield that he had despatched to Home an excellent specimen of the binturong in spirits, “the largest I have met with”, and he again suggested that, despite the notice of the animal by the French naturalists, he should consider describing it in his book. Horsfield decided otherwise, and it was not until years later that he gave an account of the animal in his A Catalogue of the Mammalia in The Museum of the Hon. East-India Company (London, 1851), pp. 94-8, where he also recalled the fact that “the discovery of the Binturong is due to Major Farquhar, who obtained an individual at Malacca, and communicated an account of it, with a specimen and a drawing, to the Asiatic Society [of Bengal].” The drawing sent to Calcutta clearly relates to the top drawing on page 263 in the Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

pp. 27-9
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