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Kinkajous On Assignment

Kinkajous On Assignment

Kinkajous
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.


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Photo captions by
Mike Klesius


Kinkajous Map

Kinkajou Country

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Kinkajous Feature Image
   
By Holly MeninoPhotographs by Mattias Klum



Living on fruits and flowers, these rarely seen relatives of the raccoon prowl the high rain forest canopies of Central and South America.



Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Not rare, but hard to find. That's the dilemma Roland Kays faced when he began to study Potos flavus in Soberanía National Park near the Panama Canal. "Everyone assumed they were solitary, because you usually find them alone," he explains. But no one knew what was actually going on up in the canopy at night. Kinkajous rarely come to ground, and they sleep all day in tree holes. So how to fit them with radio collars for tracking? Kays devised a system for hoisting traps into trees. Next problem: How to lure kinks into the traps? They're classified as carnivores because of their skull structure and teeth, so Kays tried chicken as bait. No takers. He'd heard reports of pet kinkajous raiding owners' liquor cabinets, so he tried fruity peach schnapps. The kinks abstained. Then he considered the novelty of bananas, which don't grow in this forest. The kinks bit.

Kays's research, partly funded by the National Geographic Society, shows that kinkajous here live almost entirely on fruit, especially wild figs. They lap supplemental balsa-flower nectar with a long tongue. "Ecologically, they aren't carnivores," he says. Using DNA and radiotracking—and following the kinks for neck-craning hours with flashlight and binoculars—Kays discovered an unusual social structure. A female, two males, a subadult, and a juvenile typically make up a family, sleeping together and grooming one another but usually foraging separately. Unlike most mammals, it's the female that leaves home when sexually mature, at about two and a half years. The turf passes from father to sons, and males develop stronger bonds than females. "Once I saw a father and young male playing in a fig tree," says Kays. "They were hanging by their tails and boxing each other in the head." 

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Sights & Sounds

They live in the rain forest canopy, use their tails like tools, and make sounds that elicit a chuckle from rare human listeners. Explore the nocturnal world of "utterly charming" kinkajous with photographer Mattias Klum.


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Download this kinkajou from the high forest canopy to decorate your desktop.



More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Kinkajous are elusive animals, sleeping by day inside tree holes, active at night in the forest canopy high above ground. Equally elusive is the origin of their name. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the word "kinkajou" is thought to be a French alteration of the Algonquian word for wolverine, quincajou. How did that come about? The wolverine lives in Earth's far northern latitudes; the kinkajou lives in the New World tropics. The wolverine weighs up to 45 pounds (20 kilograms); the kinkajou tops out at 9 pounds (4 kilograms). Even though both are tree dwellers with strong claws, rounded ears, and thick fur, it's hard to imagine how the two could be thought to be the same animal—if seen alive. But perhaps kinkajou pelts came north along the far-ranging trade routes of Native Americans, and perhaps French fur traders thought they came from small wolverines.

In another case of possible confused identities, consider the kinkajou's scientific name, Potos flavus, which roughly translates from Latin as "golden drinker." Was the kinkajou given this name because of its golden fur and its fondness for sweet nectar, or did the name come about because of the animal's physical resemblance to the African potto (Perodicticus potto) ? These are two more questions about this curious animal for biologists—or linguists—to solve.

—Jennifer L. Fox

Did You Know?


Related Links
Potos flavus
animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/potos/p._flavus$narrative.html
Learn a little more about kinkajous on this site, including a full listing of the animal's scientific classification. From this site you can link to pages with more information on the Order Carnivora and the Family Procyonidae.

Honolulu Zoo Kinkajou Page
www.honoluluzoo.org/kinkajou.htm
Check out the homepage for the Honolulu Zoo's kinkjaou, Sugar Bear, which passed away this year. The website has some interesting information about the species and photos of Honey Bear.

Carnivore Preservation Trust
www.cptigers.org/animals/species.asp?speciesID=4
A good source for finding more information about the kinkajou's role of pollinator and seed disperser.

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Bibliography
Emmons, Louise H. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide, 2nd ed. Illus. François Feer. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Ford, Linda S., and Robert S. Hoffmann. "Potos flavus," Mammalian Species. (December 27, 1988), No. 321, 1-9.

Parker, Sybil P., ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1990.

Reid, Fiona A. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. Oxford University Press, 1997.

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NGS Resources
National Geographic Book of Mammals, National Geographic Books, 1998.

"Feeding Time at the Zoo," National Geographic World (January 1980), 22-7.

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