Elusive venomous mammal caught on camera

January 10th, 2009 - 12:43 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 10 (ANI): Scientists have captured rare footage of the venomous Hispaniolan solenodon, one of the worlds most strange and elusive mammals on camera.

Large, and with a long, thin snout, the Hispaniolan solenodon resembles an overgrown shrew; and it can inject passing prey with a venom-loaded bite.

Little is known about the creature, which is found in the Caribbean, but it is under threat from deforestation, hunting and introduced species.

According to a report by BBC News, the mammal was filmed in the summer of 2008 during a month-long expedition to the Dominican Republic, which is one of only two countries where this nocturnal, insect-eating animal (Solenodon paradoxus) can be found.

The researchers from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola were able to take measurements and DNA from the creature before it was released.

My colleagues were excited and thrilled when they found it in the trap, said Dr Richard Young, from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. But despite a months worth of trapping effort, they only ever caught a single individual, he added.

The Hispaniolan solenodon is one of the creatures highlighted by the Zoological Society of Londons (ZSL) Edge of Existence programme, which focuses its efforts on conservation plans for animals that are both endangered and evolutionarily distinctive.

It is an amazing creature. It is one of the most evolutionary distinct mammals in the world. Along with the other species of solenodon, which is found in Cuba (Solenodon cubanus), it is the only living mammal that can actually inject venom into their prey through specialised teeth, Dr Sam Turvey, a ZSL researcher involved with the programme, told BBC News.

The fossil record shows that some other now-extinct mammal groups also had so-called dental venom delivery systems. So, this might have been a more general ancient mammalian characteristic that has been lost in most modern mammals, and is only retained in a couple of very ancient lineages, he added.

Dr Turvey and other scientists working for the Edge programme recently discovered a population of solenodons living in a remote corner of Haiti.

The researcher said that the team was surprised to find them. Previously, it had been feared that the creatures had become extinct in this country because of extensive deforestation, recently introduced mongoose and dogs, and hunting by humans for food.

They are still incredibly vulnerable and fragile. So, it is really important to get back out there to work how these animals are surviving, he said. (ANI)

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