Cute Pictures: Baby Olinguito Found in Colombia
Posted by Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic News in Weird & Wild on October 29, 2013
What’s better than discovering a rare, furry carnivore that resembles a teddy bear? Stumbling upon a baby version of the same creature.
A fuzzy fog-dweller with a face like a teddy bear is the first carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in more than three decades, a new study says.
The 2-pound (0.9-kilogram) creature, called an olinguito, didn’t make itself easy to find. The orange-brown mammal lives out a solitary existence in the dense, hard-to-study cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, which inspired part of its Latin name Bassaricyon neblina: Neblina is Spanish for “fog.”
What’s more, the large-eyed critter—now the smallest known member of the raccoon family—is active only at night, when it hunts for fruit in its Andean habitat. Like other carnivores such as the giant panda, olinguitos seem to eat mostly plants, but are nevertheless part of the taxonomic order Carnivora.
Scientists trekking deep in Colombia‘s La Mesenia Reserve Forest recently spotted a young olinguito, a mammal that was just confirmed as a new species in August. Scientists say it is the first new carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in more than three decades.
The newfound baby olinguito, discovered by members of the conservation group SavingSpecies, is about the size of a kitten, so small that it can be grasped in one hand. Photographs of the young creature reveal tiny, curved claws that are useful for climbing trees and textured foot pads that help it grip branches.
While only recently designated as a new species, olinguitos have been hiding in plain sight for a long time. Specimens of the orange-brown creature have been housed in museums for more than a century, mistakenly identified as members of a related group of tree-dwelling mammals known as olingos. (Also see “New Carnivore Revealed: Photos of the Olinguito and Its Kin.”)
An olinguito misidentified as an olingo even lived in U.S. zoos in the 1960s and 1970s, moving frequently because—not surprisingly—the animal wouldn’t breed with olingos, said Kristofer Helgen, a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a National Geographic emerging explorer.
It wasn’t until 2006 that a team led by Helgen got their first glimpse of live olinguitos in western Ecuador‘s Otanga Cloud Forest Preserve.
Later genetic analysis revealed that olinguitos are not only different from olingos, but also that there are actually four subspecies of olinguitos in existence.
Unlike some other newly discovered species, the olinguito does not appear to be at risk of extinction any time soon. “Hearteningly, it’s not an extremely endangered species,” Helgen told National Geographic.
Scientists estimate that there are probably thousands of the incredibly cute creatures living in the protected mountain habitats of Colombia and Ecuador.
“The age of discovery is not over,” Helgen said.