The discovery of a new land mammal in the Americas — the first such discovery in 35 years — has the Internet abuzz. It doesn’t hurt that the critter, the olinguito, is awfully cute. With a pointy little nose and small, rounded ears — one scientist called it “a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat” — the little thing was born to be a celebrity.
That makes it all the more surprising that the olinguito's true identity wasn’t discovered for so long. The animal was long known to exist but believed to be a subset of another species until recent genetic tests proved it to be its own.
The creature lives in the subtropical cloud forests of the northern Andes (called “cloud forests” because precipitation condenses out of the mists that are nearly always hanging over the trees).
Researchers found populations in Ecuador and Colombia, and others may live in Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Guyana. Although there are thousands of olinguitos, encroaching development may threaten their survival.
Ecuador’s vast ecological preserves draw adventuresome tourists from around the world who travel out from the capital city, Quito, to see this and other exotic animals (including monkeys, sloths and a range of weird-looking insects) in their natural habitats.
- Nature & Environment
- Living Nature