ZSL helps discover rat as big as a cat
Monday 7 September 2009
A ZSL scientist helped unearth a new species of giant rat as part of an expedition to a remote rainforest in Papua New Guinea.
Alanna Maltby, a bat expert in ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, joined the BBC's Natural History Unit on the trek that found the 1.5kg, long Bosavi Woolly Rat. The new rodent measures 82cm from nose to tail, making it one of the biggest rats in the world – as big as a domestic cat.
The find was made in the crater of the extinct volcano Mount Bosavi while filming for the Lost Land Of The Volcano, the third in a series of BBC One expeditions to remote jungles.
The team explored little-known and unprotected parts of rainforest searching for new and barely known wildlife. The Bosavi crater is 4km wide with walls up to 1km high, trapping the creatures inside a lost world.
The rat is silvery grey and the name woolly is due to its dense fur. The animal's teeth suggest it has a largely vegetarian diet and probably builds nests in either tree hollows or underground.
Dr Kristofer Helgen, Smithsonian biologist, and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, were first on the scene, when the rat was found by a tracker from the Kasua tribe that lives outside the crater.
Dr Helgen said: "This is the one of the world's largest rats. It is a true rat, related to the same kind you find in the city sewers, but a heck of a lot bigger."
Gordon added: "I had a cat and it was about the same size of this rat. This rat was incredibly tame. It just sat next to me nibbling on a piece of leaf. It won't have seen a human being before. This crater of Mount Bosavi really is the lost world."
Papua New Guinea is famous for the number and diversity of the rats and mice that inhabit the island. More than 57 species of true "Murid" rats and mice can be found on the tropical island.
© BBC The giant rat wasn't the only discovery made by the expedition team. They also found another unique type of mammal called the Bosavi Silky Cuscus.
The animal – which looks like a small bear – is a marsupial that lives up trees, feeding on fruits and leaves. Weighing in at over 2kg, it has dense silky fur adapted for a mountain environment.
Dr Helgen has identified it as a new subspecies in a group of strange marsupials known as cuscuses, saying: "Long ago, it was isolated on this volcano and has become something unique to Bosavi. I travel the world looking for mammals in many different places, but to find something of this size for the first time is a cause for major celebration."
This scientific expedition also found approximately 40 other new species, which are at various stages of being verified. These include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo Grunter – named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder.
Lost Land Of The Volcano starts Tuesday 8 September 2009 at 9.00pm on BBC One.