Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Mammal Discovered

Scientists have discovered a new mammal living in the cloud forests of South America.
It's been named olinguito (Spanish for "little olingo") and is the first new species of carnivore identified in the Western hemisphere in 35 years.
It's taken more than a decade to identify the mammal. The trail began when zoologist Kristofer Helgen uncovered some bones and animal skins stored in a Chicago museum: "It stopped me in my tracks. The skins were a rich red and when I looked at the skulls I didn't recognise the anatomy. It was different to any similar animal I'd seen, and right away I thought it could be a species new to science." Helgen is curator of mammals at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, home to the world's largest mammal collection - more than 600,000 specimens. "The olinguito is a carnivore - the group of mammals that includes cats, dogs and bears and their relatives. Many of us believed that list was complete, but this is a new one."
The olinguito inhabits some protected areas from Central Colombia to western Ecuador. Though a carnivore, it eats mainly fruit, comes out at night and lives by itself, producing just one baby at a time. The animal was assumed to be an olingo, a grey-coloured mammal that looks like a raccoon-cat-teddybear hybrid. Scientists now believe an olinguito was exhibited in several US zoos between 1967-1976, but was mistaken for an olingo, a close relative.
Helgen: "The world is not yet explored and the age of discovery is far from over. This makes us think - what else is out there?"
It should also make us think: how long will the olinguito survive? Given its rarity, and that it resides in poacher-accessible forests which are currently exploited despite laws to the contrary, will man respect this new discovery... or drive another creature to the brink of extinction?

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