The "Mickey Mouse of the Desert" is ready for his close-up, courtesy of conservationists who are developing a plan to protect the endangered Mongolian species.
The Zoological Society of London released the first known footage of the little rodent, known as the long-eared jerboa, on Monday. The creature is remarkable for its giant ears, which are about a third bigger than its head — as well as its legs, which are adapted for kangaroo-style jumping.
The species is among many unusual animals that are "highly threatened by receiving little or no conservation attention," Jonathan Baillie, the zoological society's head of field conservation and leader of a recent expedition to the Mongolian Gobi desert, said in a news release.
Baillie recounted his hunt for the elusive jerboa in a Weblog posting.
"The footage and images from this expedition really are extraordinary, and incredibly charming," Baillie said. "The long-eared jerboa is a bit like the Mickey Mouse of the desert, cute and comic in equal measure. When people see ZSL's footage of this tiny threatened creature, I am convinced they will want to get involved in its conservation."
The jerboa, which is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List, is getting fresh attention from the zoological society's EDGE program, which focuses on species that are "evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered."
The program has appointed an in-country scientist to study the jerboa's distribution, behavior and ecology, with an eye toward formulating a plan to conserve the species, the society said.
The society said conservationists have already identified a predator that is emerging as a significant threat to the species in its Mongolian and Chinese habitat. The identity of the predator should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with cartoon-style rodents like the jerboa: It's the domestic cat.