Kinkajous are animals of Central and South America that range from southern Mexico to southern Brazil. They live in several types of forest habitat including tropical dry forest, secondary forest, Amazonian rainforest, Atlantic coastal forest, tropical evergreen forest, and forests of the savannah region in Suriname.
Kinkajous are a featured animal in The Maryland Zoo’s Animal Embassy collection.
Kinkajous live in small social groups that usually consist of two males, one female, and related offspring. Members of the same group sleep together during the day in a shared nest or den and emerge at dusk to groom and socialize. They wander off to feed alone for most of the night but come back together in the morning to sleep.
Kinkajous are nocturnal and arboreal, which means that they are most active at night and rarely come down out of the trees. They have huge eyes for seeing in low light, and rely on exceptional senses of hearing and smell to navigate at night. They have nimble clawed fingers and fully reversible hind feet that are slightly webbed – all the better for getting a good grip. Their bodies are elongated and they have extremely flexible spines so they can maneuver easily among branches. They use their long prehensile tails for balance and for swinging through the treetops. They often hang upside down from their tails while feeding.
Kinkajous primarily eat fruit. They may supplement their diet with insects and nectar, and can use their extra long tongues to get both. Kinkajous are considered important pollinators. Fruit, seeds, and pollen stick to their thick, honey-colored fur when they are feeding and get deposited elsewhere as they move around.
Kinkajous communicate with each other mainly through scent marking and vocalization. They have scent glands on their hands, throats, and abdomens that they rub on tree branches to mark territory. Every social group of kinkajous has a clearly delineated home territory. Kinkajous also have a wide range of vocal calls that includes barks, chirps, squeaks, grunts, whistles, clicking, and the most common kinkajou vocalization, a two-part snort-wheedle! To show aggression, kinkajous hiss and scream.
When is a female kinkajou most attractive to a male kinkajou? When she is in estrus, which occurs about every three months for up to 10 days. A dominant male seeks out the female in his group for breeding, as well as any females not attached to other groups that may be living on the periphery of his territory. A dominant male typically spends several hours following a female through the trees before mating with her. Meanwhile, he may be followed closely by the subordinate male, who vocalizes and picks fights with him the whole time. Sometimes this in-your-face behavior pays off for the subordinate male; he too is allowed to mate with the female being pursued! Kinkajous can breed year-round but tend to have local breeding seasons that are probably linked roughly to fruit production.
After a gestation period of 112 to 120 days, females give birth usually to one and rarely to two offspring. At birth, a baby kinkajou weighs about seven ounces and measures about 12 inches long. It is blind and completely helpless until its ears and eyes open at some point during the first month of life. A mother kinkajou will nurse her newborn for about 8 weeks. After weaning, she will continue to look after her offspring until it becomes fully independent at about four months of age.
Males do not help to care for young, but will play with them and tolerate them sharing the same fruit tree or day den.
Kinkajous can be taken by jaguars, ocelots, tayras, boas, and eagles. They will try to defend themselves by clinging to the attacker with all four limbs and inflicting wounds with their powerful canine teeth. Kinkajous are rarely seen, which keeps them relatively safe, but humans are their most significant predator. Kinkajous are captured for the pet trade, coveted for their fur, and hunted for meat.
Kinkajous are rarely seen and not very well studied, which makes it difficult to judge their population status. Their available habitat is shrinking due to deforestation, though, and they also may be at risk of over-hunting and over-collection.
“Kinkawho?” Zoogram, Summer 2008, p. 5.