TOI, Jalpaiguri: Reports of a bizarre "bear with a bushy tail" led forest officials to an unprecedented discovery in Buxa on Wednesday -the first ever sighting of a binturong, or bearcat, in Bengal.
It only proves that Bengal's forests still have secrets yet to be discovered - the world's only known melanistic (black) leopard cat was spotted in Sunderbans in 2012 and the extremely rare clouded leopard and marbled cat were seen for the first time in Buxa last year.
Binturong -which has the face of a cat, the body of a bear and a tail like none other in the animal kingdom - is the world's largest civet. Buxa field director Ujjwal Ghosh confirmed that this is the first time it was found in the reserve. "This animal's sighting in the Bhutan foothills is rare. And its sighting here is of great importance because it shows the rich biodiversity of Buxa," he said.
It is also a eureka moment for conservationists because binturong has been pushed to the brink - it's population has shrunk by 30% in three decades and it is considered 'vulnerable'.
The animal is usually between four and five feet long, half of which is its bushy tail. It looks so much like a bear that it does take your breath away at first glance. Fortunately, the villagers of Paschim Khalisamari thought of informing the forest department instead of panicking and killing it, as they often do with straying leopards. Foresters posted at Raidak range rushed to the area and trapped the animal. It was released in Moynabari a few hours later.
"When villagers at Khalisamari saw it on Wednesday, they mistook it for a bear. They informed us that they saw a bear with a tail. This proves that they had never seen this animal before," a forester said.