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Solenodon; an extraordinary mammal comes into the spotlight!
7th November 2012
As the excitement builds for the forthcoming BBC series 'Attenborough's Ark', we at Durrell are delighted that one of our most unusual conservation subjects, the Hispaniolan solenodon, is to have a starring role. However, it's not just film crews that have had these odd shrew-like creatures in focus of late, 'The Last Survivors' project has recently made a 5 year plan for solenodon conservation.
The Last Survivors - www.thelastsurvivors.org - is a partnership between Durrell, Zoological Society of London and three organisations from the Dominican Republic, where the project is geographically focused, namely the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society, the Dominican national Zoo and the Government of the Dominican Republic. The project name was chosen to reflect the fact that the species involved were some of the very few mammals native to the Caribbean to have survived extinction that followed the arrival of human settlers and their animals in the region.
The solenodon is one of these 'last survivors', and perhaps one of the evolutionary distinct mammals in existence today - science shows the solenodons became distinct from all other mammals around 70 million years, at the end of the time of the dinosaurs! It has several unusual features that make it truly unique... not least of which is a venomous bite, delivered in a manner more common amongst reptiles; solenodon literally means 'slotted-tooth'. Add a goat-like musk scent, and a long snout with a ball-and-socket joint allowing an extreme range of movement, and the Hispaniolan solenodon shapes up to be something of an oddity. Locals claim that solenodons never run in a straight line, and that it grunts like a pig and calls like a bird. Perhaps the weirdest feature of the solenodon is how the females suckle their young - two elongated teats, located almost directly in the groin area of the animal, something found in no other known mammal, existing or fossilised!
Humans settling in the Dominican Republic brought with them several new enemies for the solenodon, chiefly cats and dogs, but also mongooses and the ubiquitous brown and black rats, which may compete for food and is more able to adapt to human expansion into areas that would harbour the solenodon's chosen prey of invertebrates and small reptiles.
The partner organisations of 'The Last Survivors' project recently held a species action planning workshop, where the conservation of this very special animal was discussed with the Dominican Government and several other interested parties, ranging from local businesses and other non-government bodies, and a five-year strategy was put in place for ensuring that as far as possible, the solenodon will continue running its zig-zag path across the islands it calls home for some time to come. For more information on the conservation efforts, and the project in general, please visit www.thelastsurvivors.org