Underneath some of the resident and Lifetime Adoption nameplates on the enclosures at the Conservators’ Center, there are signs that read, “I can never have too many adopters!”
Lobo Binturong has taught four of us how true that is.
I had been on two or three tours at the Conservators’ Center and was already smitten with the whole place. I knew I would adopt an animal but had not yet determined who it would be. I loved all the species I’d learned about there, but surely, I would adopt a lion or tiger. Obviously.
So there I was, at Tree Toss 2013, and I just happened to be standing relatively alone beside the enclosure belonging to the newest resident of the Center: Asong Lobo Binturong. He’d barely been there a month, and I didn’t know much about him yet, but there I stood with my camera, actually paying more attention to his neighbor, Maru Binturong. And then there he was.
Lobo sauntered over in his funny kid-swagger kind of way, awkwardly climbed the fence to the top of a bench, stood up against the fence, getting nearly eye-level with me, and then just looked at me. Yes, there he was: his sweet cloudy eyes, his baby-bear face, his crooked old-man whiskers. He stared at me, and I looked back at him, and he had me. That was it. I snapped this photo in that moment, and I think of it as the moment I adopted Lobo, although the official process took another day or two.
Several weeks later, on perhaps my third or fourth adopter visit, I was told that Mandy Matson would be my docent. I knew who Mandy was—she was actually the guide on the first tour I took at the Center the previous summer, and she was the one who first told me about and introduced me to binturongs—but we had not met individually beyond that tour. And then I was told that she was also Lobo’s adopter. It turns out, Mandy actually adopted Lobo before he arrived at the Center, based on a picture and a story. Hearing of his medical needs and the urgency of getting him to a warmer climate, she committed to his adoption to ensure the Center would have the funds to go get him. Mandy’s love of binturongs is unparalleled (in fact, she adopted another binturong, also unseen, the same day), and she was not about to let this little guy in need remain in limbo. The morning after Lobo arrived at the Center, Mandy went to meet him, expecting a reticent reception at best, given all Lobo had been through, including a very long transport from his halfway-house rescue site in Michigan the day before. But what she found instead was the affable, social little charmer we would all soon come to know and love.
But wait a second! Another adopter? And someone on staff? Someone who will know Lobo better and get to interact with him more? Okay, fine, I admit it: I was intimidated and envious. And then Mandy was there in front of me: “You’re Kim! It’s great to meet you. Shall we go see our boy?!” Our boy. That’s what she called him… “our” boy…childlike relief and excitement emerged. And off we went. Mandy initiated us taking turns letting Lobo smell our heads so he would learn his “two moms.” Visiting Lobo with Mandy was a great experience, and I immediately felt bonded to her, not just because we were both bonding to Lobo, but because it was clear to me that it mattered to her that we were both bonded. And as far as I was concerned at that point, we were family—a binturong-crazed, willing-to-publicly-humiliate-ourselves-for-Lobo’s-sake, family. Indeed, a family that was about to grow.
That spring, I learned that Lobo had additional new adopters—Derek and Diana Saluga—who also were adopting Tonka Tiger. As I heard the story from Mandy, Derek was already a binturong enthusiast and, on a tour, knew they were near when he caught a whiff of that tell-tale popcorn/corn-chip eau du bint! Derek recalls being lured by that strong and unique odor (it’s true, no bint smells quite like Lobo!) to turn from the foxes only to find Lobo up on a platform, paws wrapped around the fence, his silly bed-head cocked as if to say, “Hey there; got any bananas for me?” The tour guide told them of Lobo’s origins and tough history of insufficient housing conditions and medical neglect, and Derek and Diana were moved through anger and frustration for his past to hope and love for his future. As Derek himself puts it, “After everything he has been through, all of the pain and anguish, he still finds a way to persevere, live and love. From that first tour in February when we came face to face with those sweet milky eyes of Lobo’s, it felt like he wrapped his loving paws around our hearts and said, ‘You two are now mine.’”
Derek, Diana, and I first met officially at Parents’ Day at the Center later that summer. Our bond over Lobo was, again, pretty immediate. Lobo is easy to love and easy to become goofy over when describing your love for him! Together with Mandy, the four of us delight in his antics: we think his loud, wet smacking is ridiculously adorable, even if not the best table manners. We think those little toes curled around the fence as he climbs up to meet us may be the cutest paws in the world. We think his dance moves—long live the binturong shuffle!—are beyond compare.
This past winter, when Lobo’s health took a markedly negative turn, it was Mandy who called Derek, Diana, and me to let us know what was happening. That she would take the initiative to make sure his other adopters were kept updated about his condition is a testament to her dedication to Lobo and our collective “family” bond. For weeks, we exchanged messages, photos, and information as we learned it. And we all sat anxiously by our phones and computers waiting for updates and trying to comfort each other when he went in for surgery.
Due to her own surgery, Mandy was unable to visit Lobo during much of this time, and I just could not imagine not being able to go see him, especially when his health was suffering. Southern grandmothers sometimes speak of needing to “lay eyes”; over several circumstances with loved ones, including Lobo, I have come to understand and appreciate this phrase. When someone you love is hurting, sometimes you just need to “lay eyes” on him or her. That is, you need to see for yourself (lay your own eyes on…) how that loved one is doing. I barely made it through the 5 days I had until I could see “our boy”; I couldn’t imagine not being able to “lay eyes” on him for weeks, as was the case for Mandy! Thus, Derek, Diana, and I happily posted pictures of him and gave reports of our visits for each other and especially for Mandy. It certainly is not the same as seeing and talking to him in person, but it helped, I think.
Meanwhile, as a Center employee, Mandy kept us well-informed on the official information from the keepers and veterinarians (and while I’m at it, a huge shout-out to the wonderful and amazing keepers at the Conservators’ Center!!). In other words, we could be confident that the keepers and vets were taking good care of Lobo, and I guess we were doing our best to take good care of each other, his worried “parents.”
We also all felt strongly about raising the funds needed to provide the vet care and a new winter enclosure for Lobo, knowing that his care and recovery will continue to be a significant cost, and he’ll continue to need to have extra protection in winters to come. It was not a question of “can we” pull the funds together, we just all jumped in and made sure it would happen. Sharing this process—the ups and downs and ups again—as a “family” has meant the opportunity to discuss how he’s been acting lately, how he feels, if he “seems like himself,” and just how excited he is going to be to explore his new, custom-built home and be back out in the main compound able to charm visitors (Mr. Meet-and-Greet, he is sometimes called!). And it has meant the opportunity to strengthen our bond to the Center community, which has been particularly meaningful for me.
Having other adopters means knowing that when you may not be able to go see your beloved critter, there will be others who go spoil them as you know they deserve. It means having others who “get it”—who understand why your fur-kid is the most remarkable creature that ever existed; who understand your fur-kid has many expressions and moods, even if others cannot see them; who understand that the health and well-being of your fur-kid is and must be a priority. We’re the proverbial step-parents who could undermine each other, but instead choose to all show up to the school play and know that “our kid” is the star, and we all beam with pride, knowing Lobo has so much love and support in his little binturong life-drama. I think what it comes down to is this: As fellow adopters, we simply understand the privilege we each have: the privilege of knowing and loving this exotic and wonderful creature.
Other signs below the resident and adopter nameplates at the Center say: “More adopters = more love for me!” For Mandy, Derek, Diana, and me, more love for Lobo is always welcome!
By Kim Epting
Lifetime Adopter, Lobo Binturong
Editor’s note: Lobo passed away in late 2014. Team Lobo was with him at the end to comfort him and one another. Read his obituary.
Want to see a binturong in action? Watch one of Lobo’s neighbors, Cole Bearcat, turn a somersault for Derek and Diana Saluga. Like most of our binturong adopters, the Salugas visit and offer treats to all of the bints at the Conservators’ Center when they visit their adopted child.