'Extinct' critter scurries back

For 112 years, a type of rodent dubbed the "greater dwarf cloud rat" has been AWOL from the biological record. The last time anyone had seen one of these critters was in 1896. Now, scientists in the United States and Philippines say they have rediscovered the animal – and unlike the earlier specimens, these appeared in the wild.

The researchers say finding an animal this rare in a region under severe threat from human activities gives them some hope that preservation efforts in the Philippines can pay big dividends. The country may have the highest levels of unique biodiversity relative to its size of anyplace on the planet, notes Lawrence Heaney, curator of mammals at Chicago's Field Museum and the project's lead scientist.

The team was surveying small mammals in Mt. Pulag National Park when they found the rat. It lives in a damp, mossy forest about 7,700 feet up the slopes of Mt. Pulag. They found it in treetops some 50 feet above the ground. The rat tips the scales at just under half a pound and is covered with a dense, soft fur that gives it a far more cuddly appearance than the rats many people know. Unlike pests such as the Norway rat, the greater dwarf cloud rat tends to avoid areas where humans live, and is far less likely to inflict the kind of damage to crops and buildings that Norway rats wreak.

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