Just look at this thing. How does it exist?
Back in August, a team from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History led by curator of mammals, Kristofer Helgen, announced the discovery of the olinguito - the first new species of carnivore discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. The species was discovered as part of the first comprehensive revision of the taxonomy of the genus Bassaricyon. Members of this genus are commonly known as olingos, and they belong to the family Procyonidae, which includes raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, ringtails and cacomistles. This involved an examination of a huge array of museum specimens, anatomical and genetic analyses, field observations, and geographic range modelling to refine the genus to four species instead of five, and in the process, a previously unrecognised species was discovered.
Named the olinguito, (Bassaricyon neblina), the species has been described as a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat. And it just got even more cute, because baby photos have been released by SavingSpecies, a volunteer collective of conservation experts who work in countries such as Brazil, Madagascar and Colombia to restore habitats in an effort to prevent species extinctions. The olinguito happens to live in one of the SavingSpecies project sites - the cloud forests of La Mesenia Reserve in the western Andes region of Colombia, which is considered one of the most biodiverse and at-risk regions on Earth. Shortly after the initial announcement, the organisation released a couple of more photos, this time of a mother olinguito and her cub:
And then earlier this month, they released a new photo, (see top) of another baby olinguito living in their project site.
SavingSpecies are particularly committed to the olinguito and its habitat, and for the past couple of years have been working with local conservation groups to purchase and restore parts of forest in La Mesenia Reserve. They're hoping to protect existing habitats and restore degraded land in the area, plus reconnect its fragmented cloud forests, which is really important for ranging predators such as the olinguito. Their work seems well worth supporting, which you can do by clicking here.
You can find the original Zookeys paper describing the discovery here.
Thanks to The Featured Creature for the tip!
Update: There's a really great AMA on Reddit with Kris Helgen about the discovery.
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