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Conservation

Cuscomys comes back from the dead

by Dave Armstrong 29 Sep 2014
Cuscomys comes back from the dead

This is a tree rat, but more of a fluffy chinchilla than the picture most have of less seemly rodents; Cuscomys oblativa image; Credit: © Roberto Quispe.

The Asháninka arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys ashaninka) has a new living cousin that also lives in trees and hung out with the Incas. The preserved rodents have been found in tombs so perhaps they have been more treasured in the past than they are now. The new species will be called Cuscomys oblativa as the northern Cusco locality is common to both animals while the head is slightly flattened, compared to its nearest relative, C. ashaninka The body measures 30cm, which males it cat-sized, even for the rat-like tail. The Andean cat, Leopardus jacobitais here for feline followers as "Andean cat in Patagonia", now available in Argentina, well away from the mountains!

400 years ago, the species was known in pottery buried with Incas, then a photograph in 2009 was thought to indicate 2 new species of arboreal chinchilla rats were extant. The Asháninka species was only discovered in 1999. Roberto Quispe found the live animal in 2009 while the curator of a Mexican museum, Horacio Zeballos has been instrumental in searching Wiñayhuayna, an Inca site on the Machu Picchu trail. Montane and cloud forest dominate the plant communities there, although habitat loss could well be the prime danger for the Cuscomys.

All the researchers are presuming the species is herbivorous, but that can't be easily proved. The rest of the work involved the discovery of at least 6 other new species to science, all increasing the hope that this big tourist resource of 2 National Parks will be worth greater conservation effort by the Peruvian authorities! More at Mongabay here as- "In the shadows of Machu Picchu".


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