According to the BBC, scientists in the US have discovered a new animal living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Equador.
It has been named olinguito and is the first new species of carnivore to be identified in the Western hemisphere for 35 years
It has taken more than a decade to identify the mammal, a discovery that scientists say is incredibly rare in the 21st century.
Zoologist Kristofer Helgen said the trail began when he uncovered some bones and animal skins in storage at a museum in Chicago.
“It stopped me in my tracks,” he told BBC news. “The skins were a rich red colour and when I looked at the skulls I didn’t recognise the anatomy. It was different to any similar animal I’d seen, and straight away I thought it could be a species new to science.”
“It’s hard for me to explain how excited I am,” he says.
“The olinguito is a carnivore – that 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 carnivore – the first to be found on the American continent for more than three decades.”
Dr Helgen has used such mammal collections to identify many other new species, including the world’s biggest bat and the world’s smallest bandicoot. But he says the olinguito is his most significant discovery. Its scientific name is Bassaricyon neblina. The last carnivore to be identified in the Americas was the Colombian Weasel.
But even after identifying the olinguito, a crucial question remained: could they be living in the wild?
“We used clues from the specimens about where they might have come from and to predict what kind of forest we might find them in – and we found it!”
The olinguito is now known to inhabit a number of protected areas from Central Colombia to western Ecuador. Although it is a carnivore, it eats mainly fruit, comes out at night and lives by itself, producing just one baby at a time.
And scientists now believe an olinguito was exhibited in several zoos in the US between 1967 and 1976. Its keepers mistook it for an olinga – a close relative – and could not understand why it would not breed. It was sent to a number of different zoos but died without being properly identified.
- Teddy Bearish Mammal Is First Carnivore Find in 35 Years – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- New mammal species described as cross between housecat and teddy bear (kdvr.com)
- Meet the olinguito, the world’s newest mammal (thestar.blogs.com)
- New cute furry mammal species discovered (wgntv.com)