Kinkajou - Costa Rica's Rainforest Raccoon

Kinkajou

October 7th, 2013 by Anamaya Resort

Biology

The kinkajou is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to olingos, coatis, raccoons, and the ringtail and cacomistle. It is the sole member of the potos family and is also known as the “honey bear” (a name that it shares with the sun bear). Kinkajous can often be confused with ferrets or monkeys, but are not related to either. Native to Central America and South America, this mostly frugivorous, arboreal mammal is not an endangered species, though it is seldom spotted by people because of its strict nocturnal habits. They are however hunted for the pet trade, for their fur (wallets and saddles) and for their meat. They are also much in demand in the exotic pet market.

The kinkajou is primarily a nocturnal creature, spending the day lethargically in the upper levels of the forest in tree hollows, or dense vegetation. The kinkajou belongs to the Carnivora family, but thrives mainly on fruits. They spend about 90% of their active time feeding on numerous types of fruits. Kinkajous will painstakingly select and eat ripe fruit whenever available. The other 10% of the kinkajou diet comprises flowers and nectar, young leaves and buds, insects, small vertebrates, honey, and birds’ eggs.

Though not rare, Kinkajous (Martilla) are barely spotted as they avoid the daylight. At night Anamaya guests can often hear their peculiar calls. They make a short, barking sound. Kinkajous look lovable and cute with their big black eyes, little round ears and a soft, gold-colored fur (much like the teddy bears if only you could see them more often). Their prehensile tail is larger than the body helping them to navigate around the treetops when searching for fruit, honey or insects. It isn’t recommended to have kinkajous as a pet or be in very close range to them as they are capable of bearing the roundworm which can cause instant death in a person.

Kinkajous are primarily nocturnal mammals and live in dense forest canopies and hollow trees. An average adult weighs 4-7 pounds, measures 16-24 inches in length and has a 16-22 inch tail. Their coats are bushy with two layers of fur – a gray undercoat and gold or brown-gray outer coat. These mammals can be distinctly identified by their small ears and disproportionately bulky eyes. Though they live in trees and have prehensile tails, kinkajous are members of the Procyonidae category and are closely related to raccoons and coatimundis.

Kinkajous are omnivores. Their diet primarily comprises fruits, flowers, young leaves and legumes along with insects, small vertebrates and bird eggs. To boost their arboreal patterns, kinkajous have flexible knees and ankles that can rotate 180 degrees, allowing the dexterous mammals to descend trees headfirst or suspend from branches. They also have extremely long tongues perfectly suited for collecting nectar and sampling flowers. Researchers believe the species is most solitary, and their home ranges (about 25-100 acres) are generally restricted to a single kinkajou of each sex. However, kinkajous have also been observed living in small groups, and individuals have been spotted playing, searching for food and resting together for several months before going their way. Scent glands near the mouth, on the throat, and on the belly allow kinkajous to demarcate their territory and their travel trails. Kinkajous often rest in family units and groom one another.

There is a clear demarcation of hierarchy with dominant male who holds primary mating rights, but the submissive male also mates with the group female. All sexually mature members of the group also mate with individuals outside of their group. Kinkajou mating rituals have not been studied much in the wild, so not much is known about their reproduction patterns. Researchers however do know that kinkajou gestation lasts about four months, and females give birth to one young one at a time though litters of two offspring are possible, but rare. The females retain their bond with their young ones for a long time after they are born. Male kinkajous reach sexual maturity at around 18 months, while the females will not be sexually mature until three years of age. Kinkajous often live alone, or in pairs, but several kinkajous may feed in a tree at a specific time at night. During the day they will mostly sleep in tree hollows. Several males may have large ranges that partly cover a female’s smaller range.

Kinkajous unintentionally help many plant species they feed on by being an important channel for seed dispersion. While they feast on the fruits and flowers, the kinkajous often swallow seeds whole and pass on those seeds by means of defecation. And since they don’t tend to stay on the treesthey feed on for long, they will often carry these seeds long distances before getting rid of them. Kinkajous are also vital sources of pollination since they pollinate flowers by means of passing on pollen that gets on their faces when they drink nectar. Kinkajous are long living creatures and scientists estimate their general lifespan in wilderness at about 29 years. Captive animals may reach 40 years of age.

Where To Spot Them

In Costa Rica, they inhabit forested areas up to 7,200 feet in elevation. Since they are nocturnal, the best chance of sighting one is on a night tour, especially in the Monteverde region and along the Osa Peninsula. Kinkajous have often been hunted for their meat and tender pelts, and also captured for the exotic pet trade. In protected zones, or where hunting is at a minimum, they can be quite common and in Costa Rica they are among the most frequently sighted nocturnal mammals. These are much like your cute and cuddly teddy bears, koala bears and as such make for an intriguing sight if you have the patience to stay up late and keep an eye out for them, since they are primarily nocturnal creatures.

Kinkajous are highly vocal creatures, using sneezing whistles and other bark like sounds, which can be heard in the vicinity of Anamaya mostly during night hours. The best way to spot them is to go on a night safari in the forests around Montezuma. Kinkajous can be seen at the Aviarios del Caribe, the Corcovado National Park, the La Selva Biological Station, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Penas Blancas National Park, the Santa Rosa National Park, the Sirena Biological Station and the San Vito Park.

On nocturnal tours Anamaya guests will often see them jumping from canopy to canopy, making loud whistling and screaming sounds. They may be in groups of solitary and you may more often than not catch a view only of their hazel colored hairball since they are speedy and can instantly disappear out of sight.

These cute animals are best observed when they’re standing still but that rarely happens. On the night tour, you may get lucky enough to encounter these quirky animals as they feed, rest or move slowly through the trees. These are the sort of encounters that are going to help you admire their cuteness and elegance. You may spot them hanging upside down like bats while they nibble on their fruit.