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New Species of Mammal Discovered in Andes

A team, led by Smithsonian scientist Kristofer Helgen, spent 10 years examining hundreds of museum specimens and tracking animals in the wild in the cloud forests of Ecuador. The result ― the newest species of mammal known to science, the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina). (Credit: Mark Gurney)
Scientists say they have found a new species of carnivore in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains in South America - the first discovery of its kind in more than 30 years.

The one-kilogram olinguito has big eyes and orange-brown fur, and it resembles both a cat and a cuddly, stuffed toy bear. The tree-dwelling creature shares its family roots with raccoons and kinkajous.

It turns out that the olinguito was known to people, but misidentified for more than 100 years as the similar, but larger, olingo. A team of researchers studying olingo specimens in museums noticed a difference in the size and shape of the heads and teeth, leading them on a quest to determine if this was a previously undescribed animal.

A zoologist in Ecuador captured a few seconds of video that showed an olinguito and confirmed its existence.

Humans are encroaching on the olinguitos' habitat in the Andean cloud forests. The research team estimates that 42 percent of historic olinguito habitat has already been developed.

The findings are published in the journal ZooKeys.