“Wisps from the Cloud Forest” by Jane Lyons, excerpted from The Hum, Oct 2013
One of the things I always tell our researchers at Reserva Las Gralarias (RLG) is that there are many more species here to be discovered and described. Often they find that hard to believe considering that RLG is located just two hours from a capital city with more than 2 million people.
But in the past decade or so there have been amazing and exciting discoveries in the cloud forests of the Andes and a number of them at RLG, including a new bird species, the Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl, new frog species such as the Las Gralarias Glass Frog, new butterfly and moth species, new tree species, new bat species, a new snake species is being described, and now an amazing new mammal species for the cloud forest – the Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) announced by the Smithsonian Institution on 15 August 2013 as the first new mammal carnivore described in the Americas in 35 years!
According to Smithsonian research zoologist Dr. Kristofer Helgen, discoverer of the Olinguito, the discovery involved identifying old museum skins and then backtracking from where those skins had been collected to identifying the probable sites where the species might still exist. Where?? In the mountainous cloud forests of the northern Andes in Ecuador and Colombia! A former employee at RLG had once mentioned to me about an Olingo that ran through the tops of the Cecropia trees, but I assumed he was referring to the lowland or coastal Olingo (Bassaricyon gabbii) found at much lower elevations.
The new cloud forest species has now been confirmed near RLG, and in photos provided by Dr Helgen I noticed that the tree the Olinguito was photographed in is one of the most common tree species at RLG, Croton cupreatus. So, we have our fingers crossed that an Olinguito will soon find our banana feeders (if it hasn’t already). In the meantime we are happy to keep our kinkajou well-fed with bananas also!
More mammal sightings include a Southern Tamandua (small anteater) seen along our road one September morning and also a Giant Anteater seen along the road near the reserve in August. Both of these species are known to occur in northwest Ecuador but sightings in this area are very rare. On 19 September we had a huge swarm of army ants behind one of the guest houses and so perhaps these anteaters are following our ants! At any rate, we are eager to get photos of these rare mammals on our trail cameras.
For more information, see the Olinguito scientific paper.
And many thanks to Dr. Helgen for his assistance, photos and promotion of cloud forest conservation!