Scientists Find The Olinguito—A Raccoon Family Member—Living In The Trees
A small, reddish brown, long-tailed distant cousin of the raccoon that recently turned up in cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador is being hailed as the first new mammalian carnivore to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970’s.
The newly discovered animal, presented to the world by a team of scientists from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is called the olinguito. The two-pound creature was actually hiding in plain sight, because although they previously had been observed by researchers and others—and even kept in zoos—they had always been confused with two other closely related species: olingos and kinkajous. However, about 10 years ago, after noticing differences in the remains of olinguito specimens and those of the other two animals, a team of Smithsonian scientists led by Chris Helgen began combing the South American cloud forests for a living member of the unidentified species.
New mammals occasionally are still discovered in the Western Hemisphere—especially in the jungles and other remote areas of South America. But the olinguito is the first carnivorous—or meat-eating—animal to turn up in around 35 years. Scientists can tell the new creature is carnivorous by looking at its teeth—although, like other racoon-family members, it probably eats a wide variety of foods, with meat being only one item on the menu.
The olinguito’s scientific name is Bassaricyon neblina. Neblina is the Spanish word for fog, and it was chosen because of the fact that the animal lives in the trees of the Andean cloud forests—foggy, high altitude ecosystems along the Western edge of South America.
Cloud forests cover only around one percent of the earth’s surface. Among other locations, they are found in Central and South America, Central and East Africa, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Papua-New Guinea. These wildlife-rich forests are under great threat because of logging and other human activity.