A Little Binturong in the Big Apple

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You may have already seen our young binturong (bearcat) out and about in the San Diego Zoo, or maybe you just received your August 2011 copy of ZOONOOZ. Or maybe, just maybe, you caught his national debut on TODAY in New York last week. At just over a year old, the very charming Phu Ket (foo-ket) has definitely proven himself as a star animal ambassador for the San Diego Zoo. Though he has traveled around San Diego with me and his other trainers before, and has even been on many local TV news shows, the trip to New York is exceptional in many ways.

On the human side of it all, there is a lot of preparation for our appearance in New York. We ship out everything we will need for our stay well in advance. It sure is nice having everything we need waiting for us once we get there. Then we get ready to fly out with our animals, making sure we have everything we need to travel with them, including things that make them feel at home wherever we may be.

On Phu Ket’s list of “things that make him feel at home” is his rather large (a little bigger than him) stuffed animal toy that looks like a cartoon duck. He loves to cuddle and sleep with it, and thus it was clear it needed to come to New York with us. As we traveled across the country, everyone cracked a smile, even pointing and laughing a little, when they saw a Phu Ket’s crate with this bright yellow duck strapped to the top. My response was always the same, “He’d have it in there with him, but there’s just not enough room in there for both of them.”

Upon arriving in New York and setting up his habitat in the hotel room (yes, animal ambassadors stay in a hotel room with us), Phu Ket was more than happy to see his beloved duck had safely made the trip with us. It was very cute to see him jump up, flop down onto the duck, and then roll with it when he first saw it. The next morning, when it was time to get ready to go to the TODAY studio, I sure wish I had a camera with me: little Phu was all curled up in his bedding with one foreleg and his head resting on the duck. Not only did he look adorable, but very comfortable, too.

When we returned to San Diego, I was asked several times how Phu Ket did with his big adventure to New York. One word that came up time and time again was “solid.” This is a term sometimes used in animal training to define an animal that is very comfortable and confident in many surroundings and is not affected by much of anything. From our flights across country in cargo planes to being in the big television studio to staying in a hotel room, this little binturong took it all in stride, as if this is something he has always done. What’s really important to understand is that this is all a result of the outstanding team of keepers and trainers that have worked with him since his arrival to the Zoo so many months ago. A lot of work and dedication to his training has indeed given him the confidence to be a great animal ambassador.

If you missed his national television debut, here’s a link to the show he was on.

And if you live in San Diego, you might see him on one of our local news programs again soon. Of course, if you come to the Zoo, keep an eye out for this young and playful binturong. He has stolen my heart, and with his charisma he’s bound to get yours, too.

Rick Schwartz is a keeper and ambassador for the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Meeting Famous Galápagos Characters.