The olinguito, a newly discovered mammal, lives in the fragile and remote cloud forests of the Western Andes. Photo by Mark Gurney.
Just today, we at SavingSpecies were delighted to learn of the discovery of a new species of mammal, the olinguito. This is the first new species of mammalian carnivore discovered in more than thirty years!
Dr. Stuart Pimm, President of SavingSpecies said: “We are thrilled for two reasons. First, one of the scientists involved in the discovery is Dr. Roland Kays at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, a long-time friend and colleague. Second, the range of this newly discovered species extends through the Andean Mountains of Colombia, including the forest at one of SavingSpecies' project sites—the spectacular La Mesenia Reserve. Indeed, our colleagues there believe they have seen it, though views are always fleeting. We’re now discussing using camera traps to spot the creature.”
Playfully described as a cross between a cat and teddy bear, the olinguito is irresistible. A carnivore in the raccoon family, scientists have observed it eating fruit, though it is probably omnivorous. It dwells in the higher altitudes of the cloud forests of the Western Andes, ranging between 5,000 and 9,000 feet high.
This isn’t the first new species discovered in or near a SavingSpecies project site. Last year, biologists working in Colombia discovered nine new species of frog in one of our project sites. Indeed, the western Andes of Colombia and Ecuador is so poorly known that new species—even carnivores—are turning up there, hence these are exactly the places SavingSpecies is trying to protect.
The discovery of the olinguito further demonstrates the jaw-dropping levels of biodiversity in these special areas. Cloud forests in the Andes are also among the world’s most threatened habitats. SavingSpecies has been working to protect and restore key areas of cloud and lowland forest that serve as wildlife corridors—habitat that connects existing forest land for animals and plants. Already, in places that are prime olinguito habitat, we have restored forest for rare hummingbirds, frogs and orchids.
Range of the olinguito, a new mammal species. (Map modified from original, courtesy of BBC.com.)
"This new mammal is exactly why we are so enthusiastic about this project," said Dr. Pimm. "As a predator it will be scarce and wide-ranging — exactly the kind of species most likely to be harmed by the fragmentation of the forest. Preventing forest fragmentation—and stitching together fragments with restoration—is how we save species," he said.
The scientists announcing this discovery today expressed optimism that this new species will call attention to the plight of the Andean cloud forests and their wonderful biodiversity—and how much the world needs to help them. Rest assured that SavingSpecies will keep doing its part!