Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins. Described as a cross between a cat and a teddy bear, the olinguito has since taking the world by storm: thousands of articles, videos, silly odes (see below), and even comics have been produced celebrating the discovery.
In the video segments below, the olinguito’s discoverer—Kristofer Helgen, the Director of Mammals at the Smithsonian Institute, talks with PBS News Hour about the significance of this new mammal, which is imperiled by deforestation across the Andes.
The olinguito in the cloud forests of Ecuador. Photo by: Mark Gurney..