Sunday, 28 September 2014

'Extinct' cat-sized chinchilla found alive in shadows of Machu Picchu

Jeremy Hance for Mongabay, part of the Guardian Environment Network

theguardian.com, Friday 26 September 2014 15.17 BST

Below one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, scientists have made a remarkable discovery: a living, cat-sized mammal that until now was only known from fossils.

The Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) was first described from two enigmatic skulls discovered in Incan pottery sculpted 400 years ago.

Dug up by Hiram Bingham in 1912, the skulls were believed to belong to a species that went extinct even before Francisco Pizarro showed up in Peru with his motley army. Then in 2009, park ranger Roberto Quispe found what was believed to be a living Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat near the original archaeological site.

“In conservation biology, this type of rediscovery is called the Lazarus effect,” said a team of Mexican and Peruvian scientists, who have sought to confirm Quispe’s discovery.

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