Meet the Olinguito

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The newest carnivorous animal discovered in the America’s, the Olinguito is restricted to a few patches of remnant highland cloud forests in the Andes of Colombia. While not yet considered rare or endangered, the Olinguito’s small range within a highly vulnerable ecosystem, the South American cloud forests, leaves it at risk in the future. Fortunately, numbers right now are considered to be relatively high, and one of our most recent discoveries should stick around for some more time.

Of course, the main question here is how this rather noticeable animal was able to survive un-noticed for such a long time… The species is rather elusive, highly nocturnal, and lives in dense habitats, but I suspect that the main reason is this: the Olingo. This species, Bassaricyon neblina, is very closely related to its larger, much more widespread, and better-known relative, the Olingo. Because a brief glimpse at night makes it tough to differentiate similar species, perhaps this is the reason why this adorable carnivore stayed unknown for so long.

On rather more of a tangent, this discovery is a true testament to the incredible biodiversity of this part of the world. The last carnivore discovered in the Americas, the Colombian Weasel (found 35 years ago), was found  in riparian habitats in Andean mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador. Let’s preserve this fascinating place so we can find out what else is hiding.

Cheers,

Venkat

Sightings in Africa

As some of you may know, I just returned from a couple of weeks in Kenya and Tanzania with a lot of great sightings I could spend forever talking about. Here, I hope to share some of the outstanding ones that I had the privilege to enjoy.

– African Wild Dogs: I made a special visit to the fabulous Laikipia Wilderness Camp in the north-central region of Kenya. Here on the Laikipia Plateau, the wild dog, once nearly extinct in Kenya, has made a raging comeback. Now, the Laikipia Plateau holds around 300 dogs, the fourth largest population in Africa! Unfortunately, these beautiful animals are threatened with extinction all over their range, due to unwarranted killings caused by their reputation as ruthless, heartless killing machines. Fortunately, in special places like Laikipia, that perception is changing. In fact, wild dogs kill their prey so quickly that they are not so much heartless as kind – by killing prey quickly, they suffer less, resulting in a more painless death than at the hands of other predators. A collared pack near camp provides regular sightings and research on the remote highlands of Laikipia is expanding our knowledge of one of Africa’s great predators, the majestic, intelligent, wild dog.

– Cheetah: fast, but fragile, the cheetah, an icon of the savannah, is in trouble. Plagued with extremely high cub mortality rates, and starvation due to competition with larger predators such as spotted hyenas and lions, cheetahs are facing a quickly decreasing population trend. Combine that with decreased genetic diversity and complications, a clear problem is arising. With their main populations centers being East Africa, this region is essential to proper conservation of these African icons. Hopefully, one day, these great cats will be safe from the threat of extinction and will be allowed to speed through the open plains of not just East and Southern Africa, but also the West, the Center, and eventually, their most famous domain, Asia. The Ndutu Plains contain one of the highest population densities in Africa, and make for a fabulous place to observe the behavior and interactions of one of Africa’s greatest wildlife attractions.

– Black Rhino: it once range throughout the continent, it’s now isolated to a few remaining remote or well-protected corners. The black rhino, once abundant, is now critically endangered. An international wildlife icon on the brink of being lost, the black rhino is slowly vanishing. We’ve lost the rhodesian subspecies, and recently the west african variety. Fortunately, as of now, the south african and east african subspecies are in safe hands. The Ngorongoro crater is one of the world’s most famous rhino destinations, and the high population of critically endangered black rhinos is a top attraction. Fortunately, they’re very well protected and hopefully, with continued support, will come out of their bottleneck without issues and return to their previous abundance.