The Olinguito (oh-lin-GHEE-toe) is the size of a domestic cat, but appears much closer to a teddy bear; hence, the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) received its own legitimate new Latin species name.
In 1920, a zoologist in NYC shown an Olinguito skin from a specimen cabinet; at the time, he felt it was very unusual and could be a new species. However, he never pursued it any further beyond the conversation about what it was.
The first new carnivore species discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. After a decade of investigation and working with a team of scientists, the discovery of a new carnivore species through genetics revealed the final scientific proof needed by scientist, Kristofer Helgen.
This previously undefined species took a scientific team on a quest from museum collection cabinets in Chicago to cloud forests in South America to do … in the wild observation, back to the genetics labs in Washington, D.C. The discovery and research published in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal ZooKeys.
“The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed,” said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, team leader of research / confirmation of new species.
“If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”
This little mammal is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. In the 21st century, a 2-pound Olinguito, with large eyes and a thick orange-brown fur, is an incredibly rare discovery.
Examining museum skins revealed the species was smaller overall with a longer and denser coat; field records showed it is found in a unique area of the northern Andes Mountains at 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level―elevations much higher than the known species of olingo.
Hagen asked, “Do they still exist in the wild?” To find out, Helgen called Roland Kays, to organize a field expedition.
“The data from the old specimens gave us an idea of where to look, it still seemed like a shot in the dark, we found them,” Roland Kays said, Director of the Biodiversity and Earth Observation Lab in North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.