A lap-sized critter that looks like a mix between a raccoon and a teddy bear was unveiled on Thursday as the first new carnivore in the western hemisphere in 35 years.
Scientists say the olinguito has actually been around for ages, in zoos, museums and in the forests of Ecuador and Colombia, but was mistaken for its larger cousin, the olingo.
A big clue that this tree-crawling animal was something unusual was that it never wanted to breed with the olingo, experts said.
Photo: AFP / Mark Gurney / Smithsonian
The new species, named Bassaricyon neblina, is now understood to be the smallest member of the same family as raccoons, kinkajous and olingos. With wide, round eyes and tiny claws that help it cling to branches, the olinguito can jump between trees. It feasts mainly on fruit, but also eats insects.
Its discovery, which took a decade of research, is described in Thursday’s edition of the journal ZooKeys.
As part of the journey, scientists realized that museum specimens of the olinguito had been collected from higher elevations — 1,500m to 2,700m above sea level — in the Andes Mountains than olingos were known to inhabit.
DNA analysis was also done to differentiate the olinguitos from their cousins. The olinguito was smaller, with a differently shaped head and teeth. Its orange-brown coat was also longer and denser.
And when researchers took to the South American forests to see if the creatures were still around in the wild, they were not disappointed.
They found plenty of olinguitos in the cloud forests of the western Andes, and noted that the creatures are active at night. The 1kg animals also appear to prefer staying in the trees and have one baby at a time instead of several.
“The cloud forests of the Andes are a world unto themselves, filled with many species found nowhere else, many of them threatened or endangered,” said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “We hope that the olinguito can serve as an ambassador species for the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia, to bring the world’s attention to these critical habitats.”
Helgen and his fellow researchers on the project estimate that 42 percent of historic olinguito habitat has already been converted to agriculture or urban areas.
There are four sub-species of the olinguito, and they are not being classified as endangered. Experts believe there must be many thousands of them, possibly even in Venezuela and Peru.
At least one olinguito from Colombia was exhibited in several zoos in the US during the 1960s and 1970s, researchers said.
Back in the 1920s, a zoologist in New York was said to have found the olinguito so unusual that he thought it might be a new species, but he did not publish any research to document the discovery.
“Proving that a species exists and giving it a name is where everything starts,” Helgen said.
“This is a beautiful animal, but we know so little about it. How many countries does it live in? What else can we learn about its behavior? What do we need to do to ensure its conservation?” he said.
According to the Smithsonian, the most recent new meat-eating mammal found in the Western Hemisphere was the Colombian weasel in 1978.
A mongoose-like carnivorous mammal that is native to Madagascar was found in 2010.
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,