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Giant 'Extinct' Chinchilla Rediscovered in Incan City

Sep 26, 2014 04:55 PM EDT
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A massive chinchilla rat once thought to have been long extinct has been proven to be very-much still alive, thanks to a recent field study that was conducted in and around the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu.

A team of Mexican and Peruvian experts headed by Horacio Zeballos, the curator of Mammalogy at the Museum de Arequipa and Gerardo Ceballos from the Instituto de Ecología of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Mexico, recently found a live sample of the Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) during a felid study in South America.

The study, which begain in 2012, has so far discovered seven new species, including a rare aquatic rodent, a lizard, and four new types of frogs skulking around the ruins of the ancient Incan city Machu Picchu.

However, their most stunning discovery was actually the rediscovery of a cat-sized chinchilla that researchers had assumed went extinct even before Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro plundered the city.

"I am optimistic that the discovery of the [Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat] and other new species will help to strengthen the protection of the native forests," Ceballos told Mongaby.com.

"Both the National Park and the Historic Sanctuary are relatively well-managed. They have staff and some infrastructure... It seems that the Federal Government has become more interested in reducing deforestation in the National Park and the Sanctuary in recent years," he said.

Interestingly, the researcher had actually headed into these ruins expecting to eventually find the massive chinchilla.

That's because back in 2009, park guards has actually found a large rodent that fit its description that appeared to be injured. Not knowing the scientific significance of the animal, the guard reportedly released the 'extinct' creature into the wild after nursing it back to health.

However, soon after, pictures of the rodent began circulating among scientific communities, sparking a desire to find it.

According o the IUCN Red List, the species was thought to have been extinct because no previous ecological surveys had discovered it, with only two skulls dating back to the 1500s proving they had ever even existed. Still, as long as the ongoing field study's discoveries can be verified, it may have been that the Cuscomys oblativa was just really-really good at hiding all this time.

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