Among the many threats to the fauna of the Amazon basin is the international trade in wild animals destined to live out their days as pets. One of the victims of this trade is the kinkajou.
Known as the “honey bear” or “night walker” and notable for behavior resembling that of a primate, the kinkajou (Patos flavus) is in fact a member of the raccoon family, remarkable for its large, prehensile tail, which it uses like an extra arm. While the two species are unrelated, the animal the kinkajou most resembles is the lemur. Measuring just 50 to 80 centimeters in length and weighing less than 5 kilos, kinkajous generally live for between 20 and 25 years, although in captivity they have been known to live for up to 40 years.
Found throughout Central and South America, in their natural habitat kinkajous are nocturnal canopy-dwelling creatures. In addition to their prehensile tail, they possess the remarkable ability to turn their feet backwards in order to facilitate their agile movement through the high branches of the Amazon’s tree cover. This adaptation allows them to change direction immediately and travel easily up and down tree trunks, helping them to avoid the jaguars, ocelots, margays and harpy eagles that prey upon them.
Active at night, kinkajous may be spotted due to their “eye shine”; their large eyes are extremely reflective of light and will appear to glow orange if a flashlight is shone in their direction. Another sure way to identify the kinkajou in the nighttime forest is through its distinctive calls. They are highly vocal animals, emitting a variety of sounds ranging from screams to barks and softer sounds, which some observers have described as a kind of “sneeze”.
Like many other rainforest canopy dwelling creatures, the kinkajou rarely leaves the trees, where it feeds mostly on fruit and insects and uses its 12-centimeter tongue to drink the nectar from flowers and honey from beehives. It has also been reported as feeding upon eggs and small vertebrates, and is officially classed as omnivorous, rather than vegetarian.
These usually solitary animals are rarely seen in groups, and mothers rear their young alone. Traditionally, forest-dwelling human groups have hunted kinkajous for their meat and pelts.
Unfortunately, with their golden fur, rounded ears, short muzzle and large eyes, the cute features of the kinkajou and the relative ease with which they can be tamed if reared from an early age, has led to them falling victim to the trade in wild animals for pets, along with other rainforest species. It is within the pet trade that the kinkajou is better known as the “honey bear”.