What’s better than discovering a rare, furry carnivore that resembles a teddy bear? Stumbling upon a baby version of the same creature.
Scientists trekking deep in Colombia‘s La Mesenia Reserve Forest recently spotted a young olinguito, a mammal that was just confirmed as a new species in August. Scientists say it is the first new carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in more than three decades.
The newfound baby olinguito, discovered by members of the conservation group SavingSpecies, is about the size of a kitten, so small that it can be grasped in one hand. Photographs of the young creature reveal tiny, curved claws that are useful for climbing trees and textured foot pads that help it grip branches.
While only recently designated as a new species, olinguitos have been hiding in plain sight for a long time. Specimens of the orange-brown creature have been housed in museums for more than a century, mistakenly identified as members of a related group of tree-dwelling mammals known as olingos. (Also see “New Carnivore Revealed: Photos of the Olinguito and Its Kin.”)
An olinguito misidentified as an olingo even lived in U.S. zoos in the 1960s and 1970s, moving frequently because—not surprisingly—the animal wouldn’t breed with olingos, said Kristofer Helgen, a curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a National Geographic emerging explorer.
Later genetic analysis revealed that olinguitos are not only different from olingos, but also that there are actually four subspecies of olinguitos in existence.
Unlike some other newly discovered species, the olinguito does not appear to be at risk of extinction any time soon. “Hearteningly, it’s not an extremely endangered species,” Helgen told National Geographic.
Scientists estimate that there are probably thousands of the incredibly cute creatures living in the protected mountain habitats of Colombia and Ecuador.
“The age of discovery is not over,” Helgen said.
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