Rare Hispaniolan solenodon caught on film
A recent expedition to the Dominican Republic by staff from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has resulted in some of the only known film footage of one of the world’s poorest known and unusual mammals, the Hispaniolan solenodon.
This strange looking shrew-like creature with a long snout and specialised teeth capable of delivering venom represents the last of an ancient lineage of early mammals that lived near the end of the age of the dinosaurs.
Only two solenodon species survive today, one in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the other in Cuba, and both are threatened with extinction through habitat loss and introduced predators. They are very important species because of their long unique evolutionary history and also because they are among a handful of survivors of over 100 mammal species that have gone extinct in the West Indies since the arrival of humans.
The expedition, led by Dr Amy Hall from the Trust, worked with the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola's Executive Director, Jorge Brocca, and two field workers to test a range of monitoring techniques for the species in order to evaluate how the status of the solenodon may be assessed across the whole of the Dominican Republic.
Despite a huge effort in two different parts of the country, only one animal was captured but it provided a valuable DNA sample and important information on behaviour. The team was very lucky to be able to film it before the animal was released back into the wild.
Durrell’s Director of Conservation Science, Prof. John E. Fa, believes the study of this particular mammal is incredibly important: “There is currently very little information known about this endangered animal, so we are trying to build up a picture of how the solenodon lives, breeds and the threats it faces, in order to support the local NGOs and Government. We can then complete a plan for this species’ conservation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.”
This expedition was the starting point for in-depth conservation work that the Trust hopes to launch later in 2009. Together with the Zoological Society of London (www.zsl.org/conservation/edge), the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola, the Audubon Society of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic’s National Zoological Park and Agency for Protected Areas and Biodiversity, the project aims to build the capacity and the knowledge-base to conserve Hispaniola’s endemic land mammals, including the Hispaniolan solenodon. At the end of the project, the partners would work together to draw up a species action plan, which would set out the main actions needed to conserve the species, and develop an island-wide monitoring programme to understand if future conservation efforts are effective.
Posted 8 January 2009