A new species of porcupine, Coendou speratus, has been discovered in Brazil’s highly endangered northeast Atlantic rainforest. A team of Brazilian researchers recently published the discovery in the journal Zootaxa, where they noted that the small porcupine was known to locals as “coandu-mirin.”
The tree-dwelling group of rodents is well-known throughout the world for its ability to protect itself with its long, threatening spines. However, it can’t protect itself from the aggressive removal of forest trees. The porcupine not only sleeps in cavities in the trees, it also dines on their fruits and nuts.
According to a National Geographic report, the forest covered over half a million square miles when the first Portugeuse sailors arrived in April 1500. One of the first things they did? Chop down a tree — which they used to build a cross and claim the land.
According to the Zootaxa report, the region has now lost a shocking 98 percent of its forest cover.
Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, one of the zoologists who worked on the discovery, told the Associated Press that the species name for the newly discovered porcupine was chosen for that reason: “In Latin, ‘speratus’ means hope, because we have to hope for its future.”
He also said that the rare species probably only exists in a tiny pocket of remaining forest in a small area of Brazil. Thus, it’s probably already threatened by inbreeding because of the reduced numbers of remaining animals.
The tragedy of the disappearing Atlantic forest first came to public awareness in the 1980s, when the critically endangered golden lion tamarin was almost wiped out in the wild. Like the new porcupines, the beautiful golden-orange monkeys sleep and nest in the natural cavities found in older trees.
They were declared an endangered species in 1982. With few wild animals remaining, 140 zoos worldwide banded together to captive-breed the animals under the auspices of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association. The intelligent and highly social animals must undergo special training before they can be reintroduced into the wild, but they’ve been reasonably adaptable and seem to succeed well if they’re protected from loggers.
There are now an estimated 1,500 golden lion tamarins in the wild.
A person could reasonably wonder what other species have already been lost in the vanishing forest. Because of the vanishing habitat, the Brazilian researchers consider the newly discovered porcupine an endangered species.
[porcupine species photo by Drew Avery via Wikipedia Commons]