Smithsonian discovers rare new mammal species

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

A Smithsonian zoologist announced Thursday the "spectacular" discovery of a new mammal species -- the olinguito -- a small member of the raccoon family that lives in the Andes.

"You have not seen an animal quite like this before," zoologist Kris Helgen, from the Smthsonian's National Museum of Natural History, told reporters in Washington.

The olinguito is from the olingo family, a bushy-tailed tree-dwelling carnivore. The olingito is also a carnivore, but eats mainly fruits.

PHOTOS:Smithsonian announces discovery of cute new mammal

Helgen said his team discovered the animal, which is part of the raccoon family, living in the canopy of the tall trees in the mountains of Colombia and Ecuador.

He said the species "was completely overlooked by all zoologists until now."

Helgen said his team first saw the animal in the Andes in 2006 and have been constructing its family history eversince.

Helgen said he was also announcing four subspecies of the oligiguito. He said the animal thrives in its cloud-forest habitat in the Andes and is not considered an endangered species.

The zoologist also said an olinguito had actually been held in zoos in the U.S. several years ago, but no one realized it was a new species. He did say that zookeepers that he has since contacted noted at the time that the animal was never able to mate with an olingo.

That was why the animal was sent to various zoos in hopes it would mate.


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