The BBC has reported that conservationists from the UK are scouring the Dominican Republic with the hopes of capturing the elusive Solenodon, a strange-looking, poisonous creature that faces growing threats to its survival.
Described as a sort of hybrid between an anteater, a shrew and giant rat, the Solenodon is the size of a rabbit, with a ginger-brown coat, disproportionately large, clawed feet, beady little eyes and a very long, thin nose. Although scientists know that this bizarre, nocturnal beast exists in the Dominican Republic and in one of the last forested patches of Haiti, virtually nothing is known about its habits.
Often described as a “living fossil”, thanks to the fact that it has been around, virtually unchanged, for the past 76 million years this odd insectivore – which is the only mammal able to inject venom with its teeth — once scuttled amongst the giant feet of the dinosaurs, in the days when they roamed the Earth.
Sadly this unique creature is now under threat as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which together make up the island of Hispaniola, have seen a diverse mix of monkeys, shrews, sloths and rodents die out one by one. This has left the solenodon, and a tree-dwelling rodent called the hutia, as the only native mammals that remain.
Now, researchers from the UK and the Dominican Republic, with the help of a grant from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, have embarked on a project called The Last Survivors , which they say could be our last chance to save the solenodon and hutia before they vanish from the forests forever. Dr Richard Young, head of conservation science at Durrell, explains:
“The problem is that we really don’t know anything about these animals – we don’t know where they are, how many there are and how this relates to their habitats… and before you can start to conserve them, you need to answer some really basic questions.”
For Dr Sam Turvey, who works on the Edge of Existence Program, the prospect of spotting a solenodon is thrilling.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am about seeing one. Being in the middle of the forest, in the middle of nowhere, in the night, is going to be amazing… it’s going to be one of those life-defining moments to see one in the wild.”