A North Carolina scientist is part of a team that's made a big find: the first carnivore to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.
The new animal is called the olinguito (pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-toe). But for the longest time, olinguitos were thought to be olingos, small raccoon-like carnivores that live in the Andes Mountains.
The two animals were thought to be the same until a Smithsonian curator found olingo pelts and skeletons that looked different. They had shorter tails, rounder faces and darker fur. He brought in Roland Kays, N.C. State professor and director of the Biodiversity Lab at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, to help.
In 2006, Kays led a team to South America, where they discovered a live olinguito in the Andes on their first night there.
"Clouds were moving by, it was hard to get a good look,” Kays said of the sighting. “Vegetation was in the way. But once I got my binoculars on, you could see the coloration difference from the other olingos. It was a huge relief!"
The olinguito weighs about two pounds, roams at night, eats figs, and is described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. The entire discovery, from the discovery of the unusual pelts and skeletons to finding a live one and getting it recognized by the scientific community, has taken a decade, and there's still a lot left to learn about the new animal.
Olinguito stuffed animals are already on sale at the Museum of Natural Sciences.