Residents of Fangunu, an island in the Solomon Islands, repeatedly told passing biologists that large rodents lived in the rainforests of their island: it climbed trees and gnawed coconuts with its teeth. But it wasn’t until 2017 that these reports were scientifically confirmed: an expedition from the Field Museum in Chicago discovered and named a large rodent species. Oromis Vika. However, the participants at that time could not create an image, they only made illustrations. A working group led by Tyrone Lavery of the University of Melbourne did this with the help of local rangers. For the first time, photos published in the journal “Ecology and Evolution” prove the existence of the giant Fanjuno rat.
For example, images from the camera trap show a specimen of the mouse, about half a meter long and weighing up to a kilogram, running up a branch. In total, Lavery and his colleagues obtained 95 images of animals, which came from four different individuals. On the advice of rangers, they placed their camera traps in a heavily wooded area of the island in the lowland rainforest.
The photos may have come at the right time, because the rat ecosystem is disappearing due to deforestation. Lavery and his team estimate that the total number of animals may reach 100 animals. The first recorded specimen was also a victim of logging: it escaped from a tree that had been hit during logging work and died shortly afterwards. Based on tissue samples and skull comparisons, the giant Fanguno rats were shown to be a separate species three to four times larger than the traditional brown rats. Just under 40 square kilometers of the island’s last lowland rainforest has some level of protection as a reserve for three villages. However, valuable wood that is highly sought after grows there, which is why the local government also wants to open this area to logging.
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