What Is a Kinkajou and Why Is It in My House?

Native to Central and South America, kinkajous are nocturnal rainforest dwellers related to raccoons. Seregraff/Shutterstock

Imagine for a moment you're asleep in your bed when you slowly come to the realization that something is in the bed with you. You awake to see an odd animal sleeping on your chest, one that looks like a cross between a ferret and a monkey!

Or maybe you're on your way to work in the morning when this strange mammal rushes past you into the house, biting your ankles and scratching your calves.

No, these aren't taken from a new Stephen King novel. Both of these scenarios have happened to people in Florida.

Lake Worth Watermelon Bandit

In one incident, a man in Lake Worth first noticed the raccoon-like animal on a fence outside his girlfriend's home, CNN reported. He left out some watermelon for it, which apparently inspired it to wait outside the house all night, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). As the man began to leave for work the next morning, the animal slipped inside, then bit and scratched his legs when he tried convincing it to leave.

"It was so hungry for more watermelon, it was waiting, and as soon as he opened the door, it just bum-rushed him," the man's girlfriend told West Palm Beach's WPTV.

Surprising Bedmate

And in early 2016, a 99-year-old woman in Miami woke up to discover a similar creature curled up on her chest. Both she and the intruder were startled, prompting it to flee and hide in her attic. After consulting with a family friend, the woman learned the animal was a kinkajou (pronounced KING-kə-joo), a nocturnal mammal related to raccoons that's native to rainforests in Central and South America.

wild kinkajou
A wild kinkajou looks down from a tree branch in Costa Rica. Martin Pelanek/Shutterstock

Kinkajous aren't native to the U.S., but it's possible to get a permit to keep one as a pet. The bed-sharing kinkajou from 2016 turned out to be an escaped pet, but it's still unclear where the more recent interloper came from. The couple managed to trap it in the bathroom until authorities arrived, and it was eventually captured after an "hours-long standoff," CNN reports, and taken to an FWC facility.

What is a Kinkajou and Is It a Good Pet?

Kinkajous — or honey bears, as they're also called due to their habit of raiding bee hives — have strong tails that they use for balance and climbing, similar to the way monkeys use their tails. They aren't primates, though, and while they can look and sound like monkeys, they're more closely related to raccoons, olingos and coatis.

Some folks contend kinkajous are not the best pets because they have sharp claws and teeth, and even when raised from babies they can be unpredictable. In the wild, they form treetop groups known as troops, according to National Geographic, and share social interactions like grooming. They're also highly vocal, commonly barking and screeching from high in the forest canopy.

Little girl holding a kinkajou
This 1931 photo shows a little girl caring for a kinkajou. Fox Photos/Getty Images

But others argue the playful, quiet and docile nature of the kinkajou can make it a suitable pet, presuming it has adequate space and other accommodations. That said, Treehugger always advocates for wildlife to live in the wild unless there are issues preventing a wild animal from doing so.

As for the Miami kinkajou, after she was taken to a vet, her owner saw the local news and was thrilled that his pet of five years was OK. The kinkajou, whose name is Banana, had been missing for more than a week after escaping from a temporary cage. There are still questions about the Lake Worth kinkajou, though. Keeping a kinkajou as a pet requires a Class III permit from the FWC, according to CNN, but officials have said they didn't find records of any permit holders in the area.