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West Neighborhoods
Snarling porch sitter thought to be a binturong

Monday, April 22, 2002

By Jeffrey Cohan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

She has scissor-sharp teeth, bear-like claws, thick black fur, seal-worthy whiskers, a long tail and a mean streak.

This animal was captured yesterday outside the home of Joan and Gerry States in Economy, Beaver County. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Which just leaves one question: What the heck is she?

This snarling stranger showed up yesterday morning on the front doorstep of an Economy couple.

And she spent last night in a cage within a cage at the McKees Rocks kennel of Triangle Pet Control Service, whose staff discerned her gender but -- for the first few hours, anyway -- not her species.

"It doesn't take much to get her agitated," said Paul McIntyre, the kennel's manager. "That thing would tear a dog up."

McIntyre tried in vain yesterday to contact officials at the state Game Commission and Pittsburgh Zoo, unable to solve the ferocious mystery.

But the creature bears an unmistakable resemblance to a binturong, a bearcat native to Southeast Asia.

"It's definitely a binturong. There's just no doubt about it," said binturong breeder Wendy Looker, who reviewed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's photos of the animal yesterday evening.

She breeds the animals for zoos at a facility in Dillsburg, outside of Harrisburg.

"They can be dangerous when they're frightened," said Looker, the founder of Rehabitat Inc., a nonprofit wildlife organization.

Henry Kacprzyk, animal curator at the Pittsburgh Zoo, also identified the animal as a binturong after seeing her on video at the studios of KDKA-TV.

"That's a binturong," he said. "The first second I saw it, I knew exactly what it was."

McIntyre, after doing some research on the Internet, came to the same conclusion as Looker and Kacprzyk: He has a binturong on his hands.

"We're going to talk to the zoo tomorrow and see what we can do," McIntyre said.

Gerry and Joan States of Economy found the animal curled under a bench on their front doorstep yesterday morning.

Their dog, T.J., preceded Joan out the door to get the Sunday paper but did a quick U-turn upon spotting the visitor.

"They sniffed each other's noses," Joan said.

Startled at the sight of the strange animal, Joan called her dog inside, shut the door, and phoned the police.

Joan States, her husband, Gerry, and their dog, T.J., stand outside their home yesterday in Economy, Beaver County. They found a wild animal yesterday sleeping on their doorstep, seen in the background of the photo. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Gerry said, "I had never seen an animal like that in this area."

An Economy officer arrived, entered through the back porch to avoid the creature, took a gander at her through a glass door, and called Triangle Pet Control.

To the amazement of the States, the animal stayed put, dozing on the front porch for more than two hours until Ray Sickelsmith of Triangle Pet showed up.

"I thought it was a stuffed animal until it moved," Sickelsmith said.

She didn't just move. She moved toward Sickelsmith -- in attack mode.

"It freaked me out," he said.

From his truck, he retrieved a 5-foot-long control stick, which has a noose on the end for subduing angry animals from a distance.

He lassoed her and hauled her away in his animal paddy wagon.

"She's just outright mean," Sickelsmith said.

Triangle employees transferred her to a 5-foot-long cage, then taunted her a tad by brushing a work glove against the side of it. She bared her fangs and let out a scratchy snarl.

"The scary thing about the whole situation is, if there is one, there might be more out there," said Cathy McIntyre, Paul's wife.

Sufficiently intimidated, Paul McIntyre ordered the cage placed inside the cage that forms the back of one their dog-catching vehicles.

But, so as not to seem totally inhospitable, Triangle Pet fed her dog food and a hot dog, though no mustard or relish.

She ate some of the fare, but as it turns out, she would have preferred fruit.

"If [Triangle Pet staffers] can find some bananas and grapes, the bint will absolutely love them," Looker said.

While only 210 binturongs exist in captivity worldwide, Looker was not totally surprised that one showed up in Beaver County, since exotic-animal auctions are held in Zelphos, Ohio, about a two-hour drive away.

Both Looker and Kacprzyk speculated that the binturong is an escaped pet.

"My guess is that the animal did not travel very far," Looker said. "It will be real interesting to see if anybody fesses up to it being missing."

Ownership would require an exotic-pet license from the state Game Commission.

Keeping binturongs as pets is legal since they are not officially listed as endangered.

But Looker said the number remaining in the wild is unknown and probably dangerously low, due to rampant deforestation and poaching in Southeast Asia.

They are known as skilled tree climbers that can swing from branches with their long tails.

Kacprzyk said the zoo would be willing to temporarily care for the animal until a legal owner comes forward or some other permanent arrangement can be made.

Looker said the binturong might end up joining the 23 others she cares for in Dillsburg.

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