The World's Most Mysterious Mammal - Zenkerella

Admin | Published 2016-08-23 12:02
This creature has never seen before until a wildlife conservation biologist, David Fernandez, peered into an opaque plastic container where the specimen was. After 14 years of working on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, he is the first one who can witness that he has seen this strange animal. In consultation with his colleague Erik Seiffert, they concluded that this mysterious mammal is Zenkerella. Until now, this animal was known only by its fossils and 11 scattered specimens, many of which had been languishing in natural history collections for over 100 years. In a study published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ, Fernandez, Seiffert, and their colleagues describe the capture of three freshly killed Z. insignis specimens. The discovery means that, for the first time, scientists were able to examine the genome of one of the bizarre mammals, and finally figure out where Zenkerella fits in our evolutionary family tree. Members of the Zenkerella genus are creatures of another world, "living fossils" that have evolved very little over the past 49 million years. For context, they're only about 15 million years younger than the dinosaurs, and some 35 million years older than the oldest great apes. When they first arose, Australia was still connected to Antarctica, and the Himalayas didn't even exist yet. Much of what is known about the Zenkerella genus comes from the fossil record — which is how Seiffert, a paleontologist at University of Southern California, became one of the world's only specialists on the creatures. Fifteen years ago, while working on a dig in Egypt's Faiyum Basin, he and his colleagues uncovered the fossilized remains of a now-extinct Zenkerella cousin. Examining the arm and leg bones of the 37-million-year old creature, he realized, "we know more about this species than we know about something that is alive today running around in the forest." Zenkerella is the ultimate survivor. Of the 5,400 mammal species known to science, only it and five others are the sole surviving members of ancient lineages. Even among that select group, Zenkerella's living fossil status makes it almost unique. But it is the least studied of all these ancient creatures. That's bad news for Zenkerella, whose habitat in Central Africa is under threat from deforestation and development. Since scientists have never seen the animal alive in the wild, they're not entirely sure where they live, or how many of them there are left. The utter lack of information has lead the International Union for Conservation of Nature to designate Z. insignis a "species of least concern." source -
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