Over the past two weeks there has been a lot of exciting news of our fuzzy friends overseas. This week’s Fuzzy Friday Feature is a fuzzy “fog-dwelling” friend that calls the amazing fog forests of Colombia and Ecuador home. While exploring the extremely “hard-to- study” cloud forests explorers stumbled upon a wide eyed mammal that would turn out to be the first newly discovered carnivore in the western hemisphere in over three decades. The orange-brown mammal newly named the olinguito, prefers the solitary life in the cloud forests and is also nocturnal, which explains how the elusive olinguito remained undiscovered or rather unidentified for so long.
It turns out people have been living around the olinguito for centuries but were misidentifying them as as olingos that although are similar in appearance, are genetically very different different than the newly identified olinguitos. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was even an olinguito living in a zoo in the US who was moved frequently from zoo to zoo because, according to Kristopher Helgen, “not surprisingly the animal would’t breed with olingos.” Kristopher Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, began to lead the study of the olinguito in 2003 after noticing museum specimens of the olingos that looked different from the others. IN 2006, Helgen alongside Roland Kays, director of the Biodiversity and Earth Observation Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and with the help of Ecuadorian zoologist Miguel Pinto, set off on their quest to bring the olinguito, “out of the fog.”
Today the fuzzy faced, almost teddy bear like looking olinguito are estimated to have a population in the thousands, living happily in their protected environment among the Columbia and Ecuador Mountains. Although these lands currently face the threat of deforestation for now the olinguito is enjoying its time in the public spotlight before retreating back to it’s preferred life in the fog. Have a great weekend!!
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