Published August 16, 2013
Scientists have discovered the first carnivore species in the American continents in 35 years. A mix of a housecat and a teddy bear, the mammal is named the olinguito.
The olinguito is a member of the Procyonidae family, which also includes raccoons coatis, kinkajous and olingos.
The fuzzy new discovery weighs in at only 2 pounds and is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador.
Cloud forests get their name because during wet weather much of the forest in high terrain is blanketed by clouds.
"Water is available almost all the time in this area," according to AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews. "It's very unusual."
Specifically, the animals reside between 5,000 and 9,000 feet in the northern Andes.
Average daily temperatures at this elevation is between the mid-50s and 60s, and with high moisture and rainfall, it could feel much colder. This could be the reason for the thicker, reddish fur of the olinguito, which sets it apart from olingos.
"The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed," said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and leader of the team reporting the new discovery.
The species does not seem to be endangered, Helgen said. However, they are still somewhat elusive to the team.
"We have very little first-hand info coming to us about places in Columbia where we can find olinguitos right now today."
Deforestation is believed to be the main threat to olingutios.
"You might think these forests are very remote, high up in the mountains, and not a place where people would ever infringe in the olinguito, but that's not true," he said.
"Some of these areas, there are lots of people, agricultural expansion, even cities up in the mountains and so we'll keep an eye on the situation with olinguito and its status may change over time."