IUCN threat status:

Vulnerable (VU)

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Bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus)

The bear cuscus is the most primitive phalangerid, retaining primitive dentition and cranial features(4,6-8).

It occurs on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the adjacent Indonesian islands of Butung, the Peleng, Togian and Talaut Islands and possibly Muna (3-5). It ranges from sea level to over 600 m above sea level. It is typically found in the upper canopy of undisturbed tropical or subtropical lowland moist forests (2,9,10). It does not readily use disturbed habitats, so is not usually found in gardens or plantations.

It has an an average mass of 7 kg and is up to 1.2 m long. It has a short face and short, furry ears. The prehensile, unfurred tail is half of the total body length and is used in conjunction with the forefeet, which have two opposable digits, and syndactylous hindfeet to move between trees. The pelage is composed of a fine, wiry underfur and coarse guard hairs. Coloration ranges from black to grey to brown with a lighter colored belly and tips of extremities; variation depends on geographic location and the age of the animal.

It is largely diurnal and arboreal and is often found in pairs. It feeds on various leaves; the leaves of three species of trees make up half the total diet. Young leaves are much preferred, probably because they are easier to digest and contain fewer toxins. The cuscus prefers mature leaves of mistletoes, which have more protein than young leaves. It also eats a small amount of flowers, buds and unripe fruit (which contains more protein than ripe fruit) (9,10) . As it eats buds, it tends to restrict the reproductive potential of some plants.

An adult female gives birth to 1-2 young 1-2 times a year (1). The young are born at an extrememely altricial stage and continue development in the mother's pouch. They are weaned at @ 8 months, after which development is sufficient to allow survival, although the young stays with the mother for an additional period. One specimen lived 5.9 years at Berlin Zoo (11).

The Red List Category is Vulnerable, due to an ongoing population decline estimated and projected to exceed 30% in a 10 year period, due to the high rate of deforestation using large-scale logging for agriculture. The cuscus, under the name Phalanger ursinus, has nominaly protected legal status in Indonesia. Hunting and the pet trade greatly threaten it due to its low reproductive rate, particularly as females with young in the pouch may be killed and the young then abandoned, almost certainly dying (8,10,12). The meat is commonly found in restaurants and markets of Indonesia (10). The cuscus is abundant in some areas, but was much more plentiful. From 1979-1994, there was a 95% decline in Tangkoko-DuaSudara Nature Reserve due to hunting and this may be indicative of trends for North Sulawesi (13). It occurs in many protected areas, including: Tangkoko-DuaSudara Nature Reserve, various forest reserves and the Bogani Nani Wartabone, Lore Lindu and Morowali National Parks.


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