Carnivore ‘teddy bear’ emerges from the mists of Ecuador

By , August 16, 2013

A new species of carnivore discovered in Ecuadorian Cloud Forests??

Enami-Codelco no logran apoyo en Intag

Cloud forests are one of the ecosystems where new species are more likely to be found… but a mammal?  a carnivore?   Recently, right here in Intag,  a biologist working on an Environmental Impact Study for the paving of the main road to Intag, captured a bat species that was not supposed to be anywhere these forests (not anywhere on this side of the Andes in fact).  It could easily turn out to be a yet a new species to science.  Ask yourself in how many of the world’s ecosystems can one discover a species like the Olinguito or a new species of bat within months of each other?  Now recall that cloud forests make up less than 2.5% of the world’s tropical forests and that,  in Ecuador, they are severely threatened.  

These are the same forests the Ecuadorian government has earmarked for sacrifice to feed the devouring vision of well-being involving open pit mining:  More roads, more clinics, more computers in schools, less forests, less clean water, less biological diversity; more climate and social upheaval.  Will we ever get over the economic-trumps-over-everything mentality??

And while on the subject, a few minutes ago President Correa announced the termination of the Yasuni-ITT initiative.  The decision clears the way for the exploitation of heavy crude lying underneath one of the most biodiverse forests on the fact of Planet Earth. Yasuni is also a national park.  The decision, I strongly believe,  is also a watershed decision, for it makes it much more likely that other protected areas will, sooner or later, be opened for mining and petroleum extraction.

This shines a dark light on a problem I’ve raised before on our site:  the problem with paper parks, those where communities are not directly and actively involved in their protection.   At least here in Intag, we can guarantee the protection of the overwhelming majority of protected areas, which we (Decoin)  made sure are in the hands of the communities and that the communities derive some tangible benefit from, such as safe water, or destinations for ecological tourism.  If you want to guarantee protection, tis the only way…

Now for the great article from the Guardian

Carnivore ‘teddy bear’ emerges from the mists of Ecuador

Olinguito is the first new carnivore identified in western hemisphere for 35 years, bringing 100 years of mistaken identity to an end

Fotografía cedida por el Instituto Smithsonian que muestra un olinguito (Bassaricycon neblina) la primera especie de carnívoro descubierta en Ecuador  los últimos 35 años. Foto: EFE.

A small, wide-eyed beast with luxuriant orange fur has been identified as a new species more than 100 years after it first went on display in the world’s museums.

The discovery brings to an end one of the longest zoological cases of mistaken identity and establishes the “olinguito” (which rhymes with mojito) as the first new carnivore recorded in the western hemisphere for 35 years.

The animal – which has been described as a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat – had been displayed in museums around the globe and exhibited at numerous US zoos for decades without scientists grasping that it had been mislabelled.

One adult female, named Ringerl, was kept at Louisville zoo in the 1960s, but was moved to Tucson zoo, to the Smithsonian’s National zoo, and to the Bronx zoo after keepers repeatedly failed in their attempts to breed the animal. The reason for that failure is now clear: it was a different species to the mates on offer.

The true identity of the overlooked beast only emerged after Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, launched a 10-year investigation into an obscure group of raccoon-like mammals called olingos. What began with a drawer-full of remains ended with a nighttime trek through the cloud forests of Ecuador, where scientists photographed the creature living in the trees.


“If you look up olingos in a book today, pretty much everyone says we don’t know quite how many species there are, what their ranges are, and which are endangered. I set out to resolve all that, I wanted to put olingos on the map,” Helgen told the Guardian.

“But in the process of trying to do that, and because we were the first group in generations to look closely at his part of the carnivore family tree, we revealed this incredible and beautiful animal that everyone had overlooked,” he said.

The moment of realisation came when Helgen was going through skins and skulls of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago. “I pulled out a drawer and there were these brilliant, beautiful orange-red pelts with long flowing fur. It was nothing like olingo fur. I then looked at the skulls and the shape was very different. I wondered, ‘is this a mammal that’s been missed by every other zoologist?’ It turns out that it was,” he said.

The animal had been mistaken for an olingo because of some broad similarities, but these turned out to be superficial. Helgen’s animal was different on almost every measure: it was smaller, much furrier, had a shorter tail, different teeth, and smaller ears. “We are not talking about splitting hairs. If you saw the two animals side by side you would wonder how they could ever be confused,” Helgen said.

Convinced they had a new species on their hands, Helgen’s team arranged an expedition to the cloud forests of the Andes, where similar creatures had come from. Trekking at night through the dense vegetation, and accompanied by a chorus of frogs and crickets, they spotted other nocturnal beasts in the beams of their headtorches: kinkajous and porcupines.

“Eventually, there it was, an olinguito. We got it in the beam, running around, jumping from tree to tree, but getting close enough so that when it turned and looked into the beam we knew exactly what it was,” he said.

The olinguito is a carnivore, but the term has two meanings in biology. The most familiar is an animal that eats meat, but the other is any animal that belongs to the order Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, tigers, bears and others. They are not all meat eaters, and the olinguito mostly eats fruit.

Working with local museums, the team later extracted DNA from animals on display and confirmed that some were olinguitos, a previously unknown relative of the olingo. They have since confirmed there are at least four sub-species of the animals.

The DNA evidence took the scientists back to the Smithsonian Institution. There they found that scientific databases already contained olinguito DNA that had been wrongly labelled as olingo. It also led them to tissues from a Colombian olinguito held in storage at the museum. They belonged to Ringerl, the unfortunate female that toured US zoos.

“We tracked down Ringerl’s keeper and asked why she moved her around so much. She said ‘we couldn’t get her to breed with any of the olingos.’ This animal wasn’t fussy, it just wasn’t the same species. It would have been impossible. It was a glorious case of mistaken identity,” said Helgen.

The name olinguito means small or adorable olingo, but writing in the journal ZooKeys, the team give the animal a formal scientific name too,Bassaricyon neblina. The species name, neblina, means “fog” or “mist” in Spanish, a nod to the cloud forests where the animal lives. But it also means obscured. “That’s exactly what the olinguito has been,” Helgen said. “Lost in the fog.”

Enami-Codelco no logran apoyo en Intag  Por favor ver este sitio de la Coordinadora Zonal de Intag



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