Rare footage of endangered venomous mammal
Friday 16 January 2009
One of the world's most strange and elusive mammals has been captured on film as part of a collaborative conservation project between ZSL, Durrell and Hispaniolan project partners.
Little is known about the Hispaniolan solenodon, which is found in the Caribbean. Despite being able to inject its prey with a venom-loaded bite, the long-snouted mammal is under threat from deforestation, hunting and introduced species.
It is one of the creatures highlighted by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme , which focuses its efforts on conservation plans for animals that are both endangered and evolutionarily distinctive.
The footage was taken in summer 2008 during a month-long expedition by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to the Dominican Republic - one of only two countries where this nocturnal, invertebrate-eating animal (Solenodon paradoxus) can be found.
ZSL EDGE researcher Dr Sam Turvey said: "It is an amazing creature - it is one of the most evolutionary distinct mammals in the world – which was recently rediscovered in Haiti by ZSL. Along with the other species of solenodon, which is found in Cuba (Solenodon cubanus), it is the only living mammal that can actually inject venom into its prey through specialized teeth.
"The fossil record shows that some other now-extinct mammal groups also had so-called dental venom delivery systems. So this might have been a more general ancient mammalian characteristic that has been lost in most modern mammals, and is only retained in a couple of very ancient lineages."
Researchers from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola were able to take measurements and DNA before it was released.
Dr Turvey and other scientists working for the EDGE programme recently discovered a population of solenodons living in a remote corner of Haiti.
The research team was surprised to find them as it had been feared they had become extinct in Haiti because of extensive deforestation, recently introduced mongoose and dogs and hunting by humans for food.
Conservation efforts are need in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic and ZSL’s EDGE team is seeking funds to continue the vital work.
The research will be undertaken by ZSL'S EDGE Programme, Durrell, the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola, the Audubon Society of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic's National Zoological Park and Agency for Protected Areas and Biodiversity.