The kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the honey bear (a name it shares with the sun bear), is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to olingos, coatis, raccoons, and the ringtail and cacomistle. It is the only member of the genus Potos. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not closely related. Native to Central America and South America, this arboreal mammal is not an endangered species, though it is seldom seen by people because of its strict nocturnal habits. However, they are hunted for the pet trade, for their fur (to make wallets and horse saddles) and for their meat. The species has been included in Appendix III of CITES by Honduras, which means that exports from Honduras require an export permit and exports from other countries require a certificate of origin or re-export. They may live up to 40 years in captivity.
An adult kinkajou weighs 3–10 pounds. The adult body length is 16–24 inches, the tail length is 16–24 inches, for a total length of 32-48 inches overall. T he kinkajou’s woolly fur consists of an outer coat of gold (or brownish-gray) overlapping a gray undercoat. It has large eyes and small ears. It also has short legs with five toes on each foot and sharp claws.
Although the kinkajou is classified in the order Carnivora and has sharp teeth, its omnivorous diet consists mainly of fruit. Kinkajous particularly enjoy figs. Studies have shown that 90% of their diet consists of ripe fruit. To eat softer fruits they hold it with their forepaws, then scoop out the succulent pulp with their tongue. They may play an important role in seed dispersal. Leaves and flowers make up much of the other 10% of their diet. They sometimes eat insects, particularly ants. The kinkajou’s slender five-inch extrudable tongue helps the animal to obtain fruit and to lick nectar from flowers, so that it sometimes acts as a pollinator. Nectar is also sometimes obtained by eating entire flowers. Although captive specimens will avidly eat honey (hence the name “honey bear”), honey has not yet been observed in the diet of wild kinkajous.
Like raccoons, kinkajous’ remarkable manipulatory abilities rival those of primates. The kinkajou has a short-haired, fully prehensile tail (like some New World monkeys), which it uses as a “fifth hand” in climbing. It does not use its tail for grasping food. Scent glands near the mouth, on the throat, and on the belly allow kinkajous to mark their territory and their travel routes. Kinkajous sleep in family units and groom one another. While they are usually solitary when foraging, they occasionally forage in small groups. A nocturnal animal, the kinkajou’s peak activity is usually between about 7:00 PM and midnight, and again an hour before dawn. During daylight hours, kinkajous sleep in tree hollows or in shaded tangles of leaves, avoiding direct sunlight.
Kinkajous breed throughout the year, giving birth to one or occasionally two small babies after a gestation period of 112 to 118 days.
The Kinkajous of Cozumel are rare and may now be extinct. The last recorded sighting on the island was of a skeleton in 1995.
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