Multiple new species of large, living mammal (part IV)


Yet more on Marc van Roosmalen's new Amazonian mammals, first disclosed on his excellent website. Before proceeding, you will need to have read part I, part II and part III first. Here in part IV we get to the most important stuff and wrap things up. But before that, there are yet more new animals to look at. For me, they are the most exciting of these proposed new species: a new large anteater, and a new large cat...

Arboreal giant anteater

The new anteater is closely related to the strictly terrestrial Giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (this species reaches c. 3 m in total length and may weigh over 50 kg: shown in image above), and is so closely related to it that Marc considers it a member of the same genus. It is smaller than the Giant anteater and has a similar bushy, non-prehensile tail, but the big deal is that it is arboreal, climbing with the use of hand and foot claws (and obviously not with a prehensile tail as is the case in the tamanduas and silky anteater). Its markings around the neck differ from those of the Giant anteater and more recall those of a tamandua.

A new aboreal Myrmecophaga species is fascinating from the point of view of anteater evolutionary history, because anteater phylogeny clearly shows that Myrmecophaga must have descended from arboreal ancestors (Gaudin & Branham 1998): there are four extant anteater species, and all are arboreal except the Giant anteater (there are several fossil anteaters [Palaeomyrmidon, Protamandua, Promyrmephagus and Neotamandua*, all from Miocene South America**] but I don't think any are well known enough to determine their behaviour). If we now have a modern arboreal Myrmecophaga species, we can perhaps go as far as saying that terrestriality in anteaters is a very new thing: it apparently evolved within this one genus [image below shows tamandua].


* Eurotamandua from Eocene Germany is almost certainly not an anteater, nor closely related to anteaters (Gaudin & Branham 1998, Szalay & Schrenk 1998, Delsuc et al. 2001).

** Incidentally, the Giant anteater inhabited North American during the Pleistocene (Shaw & McDonald 1987).

Again, the discovery of a living xenarthran as big as the new anteater is an immense discovery: the most recently discovered extant xenarthran is the small sloth Bradypus pygmaeus, named in 2001 and endemic to Isla Escudo off Panama (Anderson & Handley 2001) [want to know more about sloths? Go here]. A few new anteater species were named in the 20th century (including Myrmecophaga centralis Lyon, 1906) but were later demoted to subspecies status... though in the case of M. centralis, Genoways & Timm (2003) noted that 'there are so few specimens that a rigorous examination is not possible' (p. 248). It is worth noting that - even in places where they are known to occur - forest-dwelling Giant anteaters are, judging from the low number of eyewitness accounts (Loughry & McDounough 1997, Emmons 1999, Voss et al. 2001), either uncommon and sparsely distributed, or (despite their size and striking appearance) cryptic and hard to spot, or both. Interestingly, this applies to many xenarthran species, so, on the one hand, the discovery of a new and poorly known xenarthran is perhaps not surprising [insert comment on mapinguari].

The onça-canguçú: a new big cat

i-0b9e91e7c43ebbfd77ba821690250c60-black white-throated jaguar.jpg

Finally, we come to the big cat. It is informally dubbed the White-throated black jaguar, but is known to local people as the onça-canguçú. The proposed common name is perhaps misleading given that the animal we are talking about is apparently a valid new species belonging to the genus Panthera, and not a member of the species we call the Jaguar P. onca. It is entirely black expect for an irregularly shaped, white bib-like marking on the throat, is reportedly larger than the jaguar, and (in contrast to melanistic jaguars) rosettes cannot be seen in its coat. Marc has collected eyewitness accounts of the onça-canguçú, and from a community of caboclo people living near the Uira-Curupá River he learnt of a case where a 9-year-old girl was killed by a pair of these cats. On another occasion, two people at Nova Olinda claimed to capture a cub (again, black and with a white throat patch) that had remained on a bank while its parents were occupied swimming across a river. The cub later died but its skull was retained.

The name onça-canguçú means - in Tupi - something like 'the jaguar that is bigger than all the other cats and hunts in pairs'. These qualities (exceptional size and a social hunting strategy) sound suspiciously like the sort of details given to semi-mythical animals the world over, but in this case we don't just have the local myths, as Marc has been able to procure specimens. The skull of an adult was owned by caboclo people living at Tucunaré: this cat had been shot some years earlier by a man who had since died and, while his possessions had been discarded into the forest, the unusual skull had been kept. As you can see from the adjacent photo, it possesses exceptionally long canines (sorry for poor focus). The black skin it is lying on is the skin of the same animal. We require high-quality artistic reconstructions of this cat by the way.

Some of you might be wondering if this cat is anything to do with the cryptic big cats reported by Peter Hocking. The short answer is that it isn't. For the longer answer, you might be pleased to hear that I am publishing a post on Hocking's alleged new cats after this one.

What next?

i-8eb9ae7e302d15889c0dcb0ff2da1ff1-dwarf manatee.jpg

My primary aim in writing these blog articles has been to bring attention to Marc's research. Alas, despite the international coverage that his research and discoveries have received, and despite his good standing in the scientific community and respectable list of impressive scientific publications (remember that pdfs are available on his website), all is not well. In March 2003 Marc was sacked from his position as senior scientist at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus and has since had extreme difficulty in receiving funding. There is in fact a lot more to the story, but it is highly political and I'm not sure how much I should disclose. Given the many new taxa he has discovered and studied, this is tragic, especially given that many of these animals appear to be endangered and are at risk of becoming extinct before they receive official recognition. It is partly for this reason that Marc has decided to announce the new species via a website (much faster and with a bigger potential audience that publishing in the technical literature) [dwarf manatee shown in adjacent image].

What can we do to help? Funding is urgently required, so this is an appeal for help. Note that contact email addresses are on Marc's site, and that some of the new taxa could - potentially - be named for benefactors. I am not aware if the names of the more charismatic of the new mammals (the tapir, the dolphin and the cat, for example) are up for grabs, but this is perhaps worth advertising. Marc also hopes to publish a book on his new data, and on the story of his work in Amazonia. I don't know as many people in natural history publishing as I'd like to so, again, if anyone can help in any way, this would be an awesome opportunity to get involved in something huge.

Please note that the information I have disclosed here is Marc's intellectual property and it is not my aim to take credit for it. What you've read in these several blog articles has been produced in co-operation with Marc, and with his permission (he kindly supplied virtually all of the images). I am currently trying to sell popular articles on these new animals to various magazines (recall that I've worked in the past as a popular and semi-technical science writer). Any money I make from such is going to Marc, and I would ask that other writers keep this in mind [image below shows new Dasyprocta species].

i-5b11150ffb94c0722c354ff6950124a7-Agouti-colored agouti Dasyprocta sp. nov.jpg

As I hope I've made clear from these several articles, I can state for a fact that 'new species status' will not be universally accepted for all of the many new mammals we've been looking at. Others - such as the anteater and the big cat - are less ambiguous and cannot be anything other than highly significant new taxa. Regardless, it is clear that we are talking here about one of the most remarkable single contributions to the diversity of living mammals ever made by a single person, and the value of this new assemblage is difficult to stress. The idea that a handful, let alone a substantial number, of large new mammals might remain undocumented was perhaps unthinkable. Not any more.

Refs - -

Anderson, R. P. & Handley, C. O. 2001. A new species of three-toed sloth (Mammalia: Xenarthra) from Panamá, with a review of the genus Bradypus. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 114, 1-33.

Delsuc, F., Catzeflis, F. M., Stanhope, M. J. & Douzery, E. J. P. 2001. The evolution of armadillos, anteaters and sloths depicted by nuclear and mitochondrial phylogenies: implications for the status of the enigmatic fossil Eurotamandua. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268, 1605-1615.

Emmons, L. H. 1999. Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide (Second Edition). University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.

Gaudin, T. J. & Branham, D. G. 1998. The phylogeny of the Myrmecophagidae (Mammalia, Xenarthra, Vermilingua) and the relationship of Eurotamandua to the Vermilingua. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 5, 237-265.

Genoways, H. H. & Timm, R. M. 2003. The xenarthrans of Nicaragua. Journal of Neotropical Mammalogy 10, 231-253.

Loughry, W. J. & McDounough, C. M. 1997. Survey of the xenarthrans inhabiting Poço das Antas Biological Reserve. Edentata 3, 5-7.

Shaw, C. A. & McDonald, H. G. 1987. First record of giant anteater (Xenarthra, Myrmecophagidae) in North America. Science 236, 186-188.

Szalay, F. S. & Schrenk, F. 1998. The Middle Eocene Eurotamandua and a Darwinian phylogenetic analysis of 'edentates'. Kaupia 7, 97-186.

Voss, R. S., Lunde, D. P. & Simmons, N. B. 2001. The mammals of Paracou, French Guiana: a Neotropical lowland rainforest fauna. Part 2. Nonvolant species. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 263, 1-236.


More like this

I am thunderstruck....

My deepest thanks to you and Mr. Roosmalen for restoring my sense of wonder and reverence for this beautiful world.

I'll do what I can.

Simply amazing. Thank you, Darren!

By Rob Hilton (not verified) on 01 Jun 2007 #permalink

Fascinating stuff. At first glance, it seems astonishing that so many species could have been overlooked until now. I wonder if this will turn out to be true across Amazonia as a whole, or confined to a limited area where geographic or other factors have favoured local endemism? On the other hand, I find it interesting that all of the new taxa are basically variations on familiar members of the Amazon fauna, ie. a big peccary, a dwarf tapir, monkeys a bit different from the known species, etc. The 'prehistoric survivors' so beloved of the cryptozoologists are conspicuous by their absence - no glyptodonts, ground sloths, giant apes or any of the other things that Heuvelmans postulated for South America. You'd think that if any of these beasts were out there, van Roosmalen would be the man to find them. Since Heuvelmans wrote his books in the 1950s and 60s I can't think of any one of the beasts he discussed that's actually been shown to exist. Sadly, I think van Roosmalen's findings count against rather than for the credibility of cryptozoology in its 'classic' form. Maybe there is plenty of undiscovered stuff out there, but it's been overlooked because it's only a bit different from what we already know?

By Dave Hughes (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Darren - I'll leave the suggestion here, since you're in contact w/ Marc. How about a PayPal 'donate' button on his website (and/or one here)? It would allow those of use of modest means (ramen, anyone?) to toss 10 or 20 bucks/euros/etc. at him painlessly - and perhaps repeatedly... Best - John

Thanks for comments. John (Dr hypercube): I suggested to Marc a while back that he include a donate button. He is interested in this idea and will probably go for it.

Dave: my personal perspective on cryptozoology is, essentially, as follows. Firstly, cryptozoology is alive and well and proving to be a highly productive methodological tool. Secondly, most of the results are being produced by people who do not even consider themselves 'cryptozoologists': they are instead 'ordinary' card-carrying zoologists. Thirdly, people who do routinely call themselves cryptozoologists are (in many, and perhaps most, cases) investigating elements of folklore, not zoology. It is indeed suspicious that none of the cryptids reported by Heuvelmans have yet to turn up.

I won't elaborate as I've written lots on this theme already (see the ver 1 posts on the odedi and the kipunji). Marc van Roosmalen - whether he likes it or not - is a cryptozoologist in the classic sense: he records the animals spoken about by the local people, reminds them to keep hold of any physical evidence they obtain, and eventually (and repeatedly) ends up with actual physical specimens. Research on ethnoknown taxa is the cornerstone of cryptozoology, and anyone who does this is a cryptozoologist.

And I realise that by saying this I successfully piss off everyone at once.. Oh well :)

"You'd think that if any of these beasts were out there, van Roosmalen would be the man to find them."

This would be problematic if the actual method of procuring specimens was the same for every type of animal. But, the distribution of newly discovered species (with respect to relationship to known species) may be an artifact of the collection process. If, for example, he was relying on the indigenous people to procure specimens, they may have beliefs that prevent them from attempting to harm certain types of animals. (It is not particularly uncommon to find ethnozoological taboos of that nature.) Or, an animal may be ethnoknown, but not used by the people group as food or whatnot, and so not actively hunted.

It would also be interesting to see the full scope of ethnozoological descriptions collected by Dr. van Roosmalen. Does he, in fact, record every "creature" tale, even if attached with mythological attributes, or does he filter them, selecting those which more closely match what we already know exists in the Amazon? That, too, might affect the final distribution of discovered species.

Very interesting to hear of the description of the onç¡cangu纺. It is very similar to a description I posted on the Big Cats in Britain message group regarding the animal described in

"A General History Of Quadrupeds" by Thomas Bewick

First Published in 1790.

The "Black Tiger" dusky, sometimes spotted with black, but generally plain. The throat, belly and inside of the legs, are of a pale ash colour; the upper lip white, furnished with long whiskers: above each eye it has very long hairs; and at the corner of the mouth a black spot. It's paws are white; and its ears sharp and pointed.

It grows, it is said, to the size of a heifer of a year old, and has great strength in its limbs.

It inhabits Brazil and Guiana, is a cruel and fierce animal, much dreaded by the Indians: but fortunately the species is not numerous...."

So he we have a large black feline with a light coloured throat and chest. Same animal? Who knows.

By Shaun Stevens (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Most cryptids are in fact most probably only fantastic, and I am also very sceptic about most of them. I see a slim chance for some few of the "classic" cryptids to become probably real, but many of them can´t just exist, because they are biologically and or evolutionary impossible.
But in some cases, even if not formerly realized in the "mainstream cryptozoology" a monster becomes really alive, like the half-mythical Hoam-Kiem-Turtle. There were in fact many animals, especially from Africa, which were once real cryptids for a long time, and also discovered by the cryptozoological method, even if the word "cryptozoology" didn´t even exist at that time.

Wonderful post.

I suppose we ought to wait until they are formally published before getting too excited - it is I guess still possible some will not warrant recognition as separate species. Having said that they look rather convincing to me - though the proportions of the dwarf manatee in one of the photos do look like a young specimen rather than an adult, but if it was confirmed as an adult male I assume that is probably a consequence of being dwarfed.

On the matter of the significance of such finds for cryptozoology as a whole, I have mixed feelings. I have accumulated a reasonably good library of cryptozoological literature, and unfortunately have come to the conclusion that most of the more 'exciting' cryptids discussed in them - including the majority of those listed by Heuvelmans, probably don't exist.

I just flicked through my copy of 'On the Track of Unknown Animals' - and there's not much in there I think is at all likely to really exist - there are a few exceptions, Orang Pendek is as far as I am concerned one of the better bets, possibly the Queensland Tiger, and I'm sure there are one or more creatures responsible for the sea serpent accounts.

While the world is nowhere near as well known as many people seem to think, it doesn't seem to me to be as unknown as it would have to be for all those cryptids to really exist. I am sure there are more large (-ish) animals still to be found, and some of them will be excitingly different, but most will be interesting variations on known themes.

Many of the well known cryptozoologists seem to want to believe so much that they accept things too readily without proper critical judgement. There are exceptions - I have found the books of Matt Bille, Chad Arment and Malcolm Smith to be open minded but not unquestioning - though I dont agree with all their conclusions either.

It is difficult to be open-minded, sceptical and keen all at once - and I find that after 20 or so years of reading cryptozoological literature I am more convinced than ever that there's loads of new creatures to be found out there, but also convinced that most of the famous cryptids (eg Loch Ness monster, most of the so-called 'relict hominids', mothman, chupacabra etc) don't exist in the biological sense.

The discovery of such new species, as well as the recognition that the 'lumping' approach so prevalent during much of the twentieth century (itself a reaction to the wild overspiltting of much of the nineteenth century) had buried many species within others, is resulting in an understanding that there are many more species than was thought even quite recently. A major example of this was Collar, 2006 where 44 subspecies of babbler (Timaliidae) were raised to species status.

I know that a new peccary or monkey or tapir doesn't change the world as much as Nessie or bigfoot would, but really discoveries like these reveal the biological world is a richer more wonderful place.

And actually I would be much more excited if some deep sea trawl brought up a trilobite, or concodont, or one of the armoured agnathans, than if someone caught a big foot - I think we'd learn so much more that way.

By Mark Lees (not verified) on 02 Jun 2007 #permalink

Darren, I'm a pretty decent illustrator and I have experience working with a scientist. Let me know if you can use me for this.

Instead of calling people like van Roosmalen "cryptozoologists" do you think it is time to coin a more professional term for these investigators of ethno-unknowns both past and present? Would differenciating this field of study from Zoology give it some more exposure and hopefully funding?

I'm personally wondering what could possibly be happening in the wild world of mesplodont beaked whales that hasn't been published. More unknown types? Have the previously unseens been seen? Does anyone share my enthusiasm?

To Phil:
Phil, I work at the project closely related to "The Future is Wild". This project needs illustrators too. But a little note - all project members work for free. If you want to know more, just click URL address to English page of my site.

Cameron: no new living ziphiids await description as of right now (though I hope I'm wrong there). There are still sightings of ziphiids (not necessarily of mesoplodonts) that couldn't be identified to species, but that's partly because field identification of many of the taxa is really difficult. As you probably know, some ziphiid 'species' reported only from eyewitness accounts have turned out to be identifiable (e.g., Pitman's 'species A' is the same thing as Mesoplodon peruvianus, hence its new common name [Bandolero beaked whale], and the 'tropical bottlenose whales' have turned out to be Longmans beaked whale, Indopacetus pacificus). It's still likely that there are new ziphiid species to find however.

Lots has happened in the world of ziphiid discovery lately: many extant taxa have been studied anew, and loads of new fossil taxa have been named. I want to cover this stuff on the blog some time. Meanwhile, here are post-1999 citations on extant species...

Baker, A. N. 2001. Status, relationships, and distribution of Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews, 1908 (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Marine Mammal Science 17, 473-493.

Buffrénil, V. de, Zylberberg, L., Traub, W. & Casinos, A. 2000. Structural and mechanical characteristics of the hyperdense bone of the rostrum of Mesoplodon densirostris (Cetacea, Ziphiidae): summary of recent observations. Historical Biology 14, 57-65.

Dalebout, M. L. 2002., Mead, J. G., Baker, C. S., Baker, A. N. & van Helden, A. L. 2002. A new species of beaked whale Mesoplodon perrini sp. n. (Cetacea: Ziphiidae) discovered through phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences. Marine Mammal Science 18, 577-608.

- ., Robertson, K. M., Frantzis, A., Engelhaupt, D., Mignucci-Giannoni, A. A., Rosario-Delestre, R. J. & Baker, C. S. 2005. Worldwide structure of mtDNA diversity among Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris): implications for threatened populations. Molecular Ecology 14, 3353-3371.

- ., Ross, J. B., Baker, C. S., Anderson, R. C., Best, P. B., Cockcroft, V. G., Hinsz, H. L., Peddemors, V., Pitman, P. L. 2003. Appearance, distribution, and genetic distinctiveness of Longmans beaked whale, Indopacetus pacificus. Marine Mammal Science 19, 421-461.

MacLeod, C. D. 2000. Species recognition as a possible function for variation in position and shape of the sexually dimorphic tusks of Mesoplodon whales. Evolution 54, 2171-2173.

- . 2000. Review of the distribution of Mesoplodon species (order Cetacea, family Ziphiidae) in the North Atlantic. Mammal Review 30, 1-8.

- . 2002. Possible functions of the ultradense bone in the rostrum of Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris). Canadian Journal of Zoology 80, 178-184.

Pitman, R. L. & Lynn, M. S. 2001. Biological observations of an unidentified mesoplodont whale in the eastern tropical Pacific and probable identity: Mesoplodon peruvianus. Marine Mammal Science 17, 648-657.

Rosario-Delestre, R. J., Rodríguez-López, M. A., Mignucci-Giannoni, A. A. & Mead, J. G. 1999. New records of beaked whales (Mesoplodon spp.) for the Caribbean. Caribbean Journal of Science 35, 144-148.

van Helden, A. L., Baker, A. N., Dalebout, M. L., Reyes, J. C., Van Waerebeek, K. & Baker, C. S. 2002. Resurrection of Mesoplodon traversii (Gray, 1874), senior synonym of M. bahamondi Reyes, Van Waerebeek, Cárdenas and Yáñez, 1995 (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Marine Mammal Science 18, 609-621.

Walker, D. 2001. Strange but true (Bay of Biscay conclusive ID Trues beaked whale). BBC Wildlife 19 (9), 20.

A couple of years ago I read of a cryptid big cat with long canines, supposed to live in the Amazon rainforest, and maybe black (I don't remember). I suppose that's it?

Another such cryptid is supposed to live in the Congo rainforest.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 03 Jun 2007 #permalink

Dave H, Mark:

At least Heuvelmans was right about the nandi bear being a honey badger that has grown old, large and blackish. BTW, my copy of "On the Track of Unknown Animals", a reprint from the nineties, includes only terrestrial and freshwater creatures, ergo no sea serpents. Perhaps the sea monsters had their extra volume?

David M,

a similar animal is said to live at the tanzanian coast. It's called mngwa and has quite a big role in swahili folklore. The swahili describe it as grey with black stripes rather than plain black, however.

Johannes: yes, Heuvelmans covered marine cryptids in..

Heuvelmans, B. 1965. Le Grand-Serpent-de-Mer, le Problème Zoologique et sa Solution. Plon, Paris.

... later published in English as...

Heuvelmans, B. 1969. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. Hill and Wang, New York.

This edition also included a reduced version of..

Heuvelmans, B. 1958. Dans le Sillage des Monstres Marins - Le Kraken et le Poulpe Colossal. Plon, Paris.

... which was recently republished in English as...

Heuvelmans, B. 2003. The Kraken and the Colossal Octopus: In the Wake of Sea-Monsters. Kegan Paul International, London.

As for the mngwa (or nunda), well, don't get me started on that... Crypto-cats coming in the next post by the way.

... but also convinced that most of the famous cryptids (eg Loch Ness monster, most of the so-called 'relict hominids', mothman, chupacabra etc) don't exist in the biological sense.

Several famous cryptids exist in the costume sense.

For what it's worth, the chapter on the topic from my 2006 book Shadows of Existence.

Peter Hocking, a Christian missionary who is also a naturalist affiliated with the Natural History Museum in Lima, Peru, has been chasing new mammals for years with the help of the Peruvian hunters he knows. He has heard of many mammals which might be

new species, but the most intriguing are two possible new big cats.
Before we get to those, I should mention Hocking has at least one confirmed mammal discovery to his credit. In 1999, Hocking permitted me to announce in my newsletter Exotic Zoology the finding of a new coati in the genus Nasuella. Hocking received the first (dead) specimen from a farmer in 1998. The animal, he was told, lived in cloud forests in the Peruvian state of Apurimac. In 1999, he found two more specimens at a local zoo.
Hocking is working with Victor Pacheco, a mammologist at the University of San Marcos in Lima. Pacheco confirms the discovery is a new species or very distinct subspecies and is preparing the description. The only known species in the genus Nasuella lives only in Columbia and differs in color. The common coatis of the genus Nasua are more gracile and longer-legged, with longer, thinner tails.
Of potentially greater significance, Hocking has obtained skulls of what he believes are two big cats, one of which may be a new species. In 1996, he provided a photograph of the skull of one cat, the speckled tiger, sitting next to the skull of a jaguar (Panthera onca). This tiger is reportedly gray with black spots.
I sent the photograph to two mammologists, Dr. Troy Best of Auburn University and Dr. Cheri Jones of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. According to Dr. Best, the photograph by itself was simply not sufficient evidence by which to make a judgment. Dr. Jones noted cautiously that one skull appeared to be a jaguar's and the other seems to be of a larger felid. In addition to being larger, the tiger skull has more prominent canine teeth than the jaguar skull and a different ratio of width to height. (The width-to-height ratio of the jaguar skull is approximately 1.6 vs. 1.4 for the tiger skull.) None of this rules out the tiger skull's coming from a jaguar - only expert comparison with a large number of jaguar specimens could do that conclusively - but it's intriguing.Hocking obtained a skull of another reported cat, which he calls the striped tiger. In 1997, I attended a meeting at the Denver Museum of Natural History where Hocking reviewed photographs of both skulls with Dr. Jones. She agreed further investigation was warranted and referred Hocking to two other mammologists, both felid experts. Hocking suggested the speckled tiger may actually a be a jaguar, but a previously unknown color morph, while the striped tiger (which is reportedly rufous in color with white vertical stripes). If this proves true, Hocking could have the first new big cat species described in nearly a century and a half. The hunter who obtained the skull of this latter cat sold the skin, which Hocking has attempted unsuccessfully to track down and repurchase. At this writing, Hocking's cat skulls are still awaiting proper study.
New big cats are always approached with caution, both literally and taxonomically. Big cats are the top predators everywhere they exist, so there will never be many species in the same habitat. Nowhere on Earth today do more than three such species overlap. More commonly, there are only one or two species: the puma essentially has the huge range of the United States and Canada to itself. Most of South America is home to both the known jaguar and the puma. In the Pleistocene Era, the continent had at least two more big cats, but it also had more ungulates and other large prey species.
Dr. Louise Emmons, who as we saw in Section I also has experience finding new mammals in Peru, was highly skeptical when asked about Hocking's cats. She pointed out there is no vacant ecological niche available for another big cat to occupy. That doesn't mean the existence of such a cat - perhaps a relict population with a restricted range - is impossible, but it does mean it's unlikely. (The same logic, she thought, applied to Marc van Roosmalen's black jaguar.)
Peter Hocking believes that, regardless of the odds, there are indeed unknown big cats in Peru. Given the remoteness of much of the land involved and the elusiveness of felids in general, it may be a long time before he can prove that belief.

Peruvian Mystery Cats
Emmons, Louise. 2000. Personal communication, February 28.
Hocking, Peter. 2000. Personal communication, September 12. Also 1999 and 1997, various dates.
Hocking. 1996. Further Investigation Into Unknown Peruvian Mammals, Cryptozoology (12), p.50.
Naish, Darren. 2000. Personal communication, October 24.
Shuker, Karl. 2003. The Beasts That Hide From Man. New York: Paraview.

Darren and Marc, if you're trying to drum up some funding for more research into these (frankly, quite remarkable) animals, why don't you make the discoveries as public as you can? Don't get me wrong: books, magazine articles and the like are all well and good, but nothing grabs attention quite as much as a story in the national press. You could make the plight for much-needed research and conservation of these forms the focus of the piece, thereby presenting the issue in front of a much broader audience, some of whom may be moved enough to help. Mentioning the possibility of naming species after individuals could get even more attention. What's more, there's a good human-interest element to the story as well, potentially making it more appealing to the press. Don't get me wrong - I know going to the press has connotations of selling out, glory hunting and all the rest of it, but it might be a good way to drum up support for a most worthy cause.

Hi Darren,

Many thanks for bringing these remarkable finds to broader attention. I don't even know which one is the most amazing, although the new river dolphin and the new dwarf manatee are surely strong contenders. How does the dwarf manatee compare to the smallest cetaceans? It is the smallest fully aquatic mammal?

The partly arboreal giant anteater is also amazing. Nothing like catching evolution in action.

I am also flabbergasted by the new big cat(s).

In terms of number, importance, and sheer unsuspectedness, these new finds must be the best that we have had in many decades. How far back would one have to go to find an equal number of new large critters coming out of one field program?

Hi Darren,

Fascinating read. However, many these animals look like subadults or color variants of known species. You may be familiar with multiple island raccoon "species" from Caribbean, which turned to be introduced procyon lotor.

If you are in contact with the great Dutch man, suggest to him producing parts of body to DNA analysis. Judging from his website, he already has bones or live pets (hair samples!) of many species. Contacting any friendly lab to extract DNA from these should be easy, even with no funds.

His find of not 1 or 2, but 20 species suggests he may be over-enthusiastic in finding "new" forms, however.

BTW, giant anteater can climb trees.

I am wary why specimens are so difficult to produce. Specimens of most animals in tropics are (unfortunately) regularily sold as meat on local markets.

Actually, many recent discoveries and rediscoveries were purchased on a meat market (Laotian rock rat, saola, Talaud rail). Some specimens were actually already cooked/kitchen leftovers (Bruijn's brush-turkey, Undzungwa partridge).

I think you forget that those regions in which this animals are said to life, have no infrastructure. There are only some indios, and no roads or markets.

I don't know if you've heard about this, but Marc has been sentenced to 14 years in a Brazilian prison and is apparently currently incarcerated (here).

There already is a "Help Van Roosmalen" website up (in Dutch here), and I hope his international profile can help get him out. Even if he does get out, who knows if he or anybody else will dare pick up this research again.

"The black skin it is lying on is the skin of the same animal."
Gostaria muito de acreditar na exist�ncia de uma nova esp�cie de felino desse porte, mas com uma foto dessas fico descrente... Apesar da baixa resolu��o da foto, tem-se a impress�o de que � poss�vel visualizar as rosetas sob o p�lo negro. Caracter�stica do jaguar mel�nico. � uma pena!

"The name on�a-cangu�� means - in Tupi - something like 'the jaguar that is bigger than all the other cats and hunts in pairs'."
O seguinte trecho � incorreto:
"...and hunts in pairs'."

Where is Marc van Roosmalen? I was excited to look at his website, but received an error message that it's no longer available. If you have an updated website address, please correct the link; if not, please revise this entry to reflect his current status. Thanks!

By Lela Criswell (not verified) on 02 May 2011 #permalink

[from Darren: sorry, delayed by spam filter]

I found the site via a Yahoo search; for some reason none of your links to it work for me.

By Lela Criswell (not verified) on 02 May 2011 #permalink