Kinkajou eating Rambutans

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A kinkajou (Potos flavus) lounges around after gorging herself on hundreds of rambutan fruits. She seemed to be a relatively inefficient eater, taking small bites of the fruit and tossing many hundreds of them on the forest floor. A feast for both the kinkajou and the scavengers below. Kinkajous belong to the order Carnivora, and fall under that type of mammalian appearance that leaves most people (myself included) wondering where it falls in the phylogeny— is it more closely related to cats or canines? They belong to the Procyonid family, most closely related to raccoons, olingos, coatis, and ringtails. More broadly kinkajous are in the Musteloidea which includes weasels, otters, martens, badgers, red pandas, skunks, and the like. Locally, their name translates to “lion monkey” or “bear monkey” in Central and South America. They are particularly easy to confuse with the olingo (Bassaricyon gabbii), which co-occurs with the kinkajou and has a remarkably similar appearance. Anecdotally, I’ve been told that olingos are slightly smaller and have much bushier tails in comparison to a thinner and prehensile tail in the kinkajou. But every time I spotlight one noisily flailing high in the canopy, it’s a struggle to confirm its true identity. They screech loudly, and in comparison to other more secretive nocturnal arboreal mammals, these characters are much harder to miss.

Photographed in situ [1]

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The kinkajou is omnivorous, but almost entirely a frugivore, grabbing food items dexterously with the forepaws and munching away, very reminiscent of coatis and raccoons. They are characterized by a noticeably long and slender tongue over 12 cm in length and play a role in pollination by slipping their tongues into flowers to consume nectar. Kinkajous are solitary foragers, but they are social animals, sometimes sleeping in family groups and exhibiting social behaviors such as grooming. Unfortunately, kinkajous are sought after in the pet trade and they are taken from the wild to become household pets. Currently they are listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, though populations are decreasing due to habitat loss and wildlife trafficking.

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