With its long snout and tiny body covered with spiky, long brown hair, the worm-munching creature known as Solenodon cubanus long has been a mystery to zoologists, who believed it to be extinct. But a farmer in eastern Cuba recently found the first live specimen of the ancient and enigmatic creature seen in four years, local media said.
InsertArt(2023956)THE FIND proved conclusively that Solenodon cubanus still survives, and raised hopes that the curious animal dubbed “Alejandrito” may have other relatives roaming the island.
“Only a few have been seen since the 1980s,” Douglas Long of the California Academy of Sciences’ Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy said Wednesday from San Francisco.
“To capture a live one is very interesting. Very little is known about them, so any information obtained from studying it can be very helpful.
“All we can hope is that there are more and that they could have babies,” he said.
The discovery of the animal, known locally as an almiqui (pronounced ahl-mee-KEE) was reported this week by Cuba’s Prensa Latina news agency.
JUDGED IN PERFECT HEALTH
Named “Alejandrito” by the farmer that found it in the eastern province of Holguin, the male almiqui weighs about 1 pound, 8 ounces (700 grams), and veterinarians declared the animal in perfect health.
The creature looks like a brownish woolly badger with a long, pink-tipped snout and can measure up to nearly 20 inches (50 centimeters). A stuffed version of the animal is on display at the Natural History Museum in Havana.
The nocturnal animal burrows underground during the daytime, which explains why it is rarely seen. After the sun goes down, it emerges to root out worms, larvae and insects.
Prensa Latina said the last reported sightings of the creatures were in 1972 in Cuba’s eastern province of Guantanamo and in 1999 in the eastern province of Holguin.
Long said he believed several of the animals also were found dead in the 1980s, usually killed by dogs.
“They are extremely uncommon, and they are extremely shy,” he said.
After holding “Alejandrito” for two days of study and medical tests, Cuban scientists declared the almiqui to be in excellent health and marked it before release in the general area where was found.
“Even the study of this one animal will increase our understanding of the species as a whole,” Long said. “I’ve never seen a live one, just stuffed ones in museums and the solenodon skull we here at the academy.”
WHAT KILLED THE SOLENODONS?
Long said several solenodon species once lived in the Caribbean islands, but were slowly wiped out by deforestation as land was cleared for lumber and to grow sugar cane.
The introduction over the centuries of large carnivores, especially dogs, to the islands helped kill off most other Solenodon varieties, he said. The Solenodon cubanus lived only in Cuba.
The Solenodon paradoxus that lives on the neighboring island of Hispaniola is the only surviving relative species, he said.
In the initial version of this report, The Associated Press misidentified Douglas Long as David Long.
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