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Remarkable rodent rediscovered after 113 years

By Ruth Hendry - 19 May 2011 13:51:0 GMT
Remarkable rodent rediscovered after 113 years

Where would you expect to see a species last seen in 1898? Deepest jungle? At the bottom of the ocean? How about on your doorstep?

That's exactly what happened to two volunteers in Colombia. The red-crested tree-rat, a little known guinea-pig sized rodent, casually appeared at the front door of Fundacion ProAves' El Dorado eco-lodge in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta nature reserve, Colombia. Two quick thinking ProAves volunteers took the first ever photos of a creature long thought to be extinct.

Lizzie Noble, a volunteer from the UK, had been at the reserve only a month when she photographed the exciting moment: ''He just shuffled up the handrail near where we were sitting and seemed totally unperturbed by all the excitement he was causing. We are absolutely delighted to have rediscovered such a wonderful creature...Clearly the El Dorado Reserve has many more exciting discoveries waiting''. With a mane-like band of red fur and a black-and-white tail, the rodent must have been hard to miss!

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is now likely to classify the red-crested tree-rat as Critically Endangered. Despite this fantastic discovery, it is still crucial to continue protecting El Dorado nature reserve. Introduced feral cats have been seen in the area, posing a serious threat to native flora and fauna.

El Dorado reserve is a unique destination for eco-tourists, which could prove a great boost in protecting native species. The reserve was founded in 2005 by ProAves, a conservation organisation set up to buy forests in Colombia which would otherwise be destroyed. A huge variety of threatened species are found in the reserve, including the endangered Santa Marta parakeet, Santa Marta bush-tyrant and the Santa Marta sabrewing. In addition, it has one of the highest concentrations of endemic and threatened amphibian species in the world. The reserve is listed as a high priority site by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), a global initiative of biodiversity conservation organisations. AZE aim to prevent species loss by safeguarding key sites where species are in imminent danger of extinction. Despite this, remarkably little is known about this species found in El Dorado.

Discovering the red-crested tree-rat, long thought to be extinct, has initiated a major effort by ProAves and Global Wildlife Conservation to save this species. This finding highlights the importance of creating nature reserves in species rich areas. Who knows what else could be out there?

Image Credit: Fundacion ProAves.