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Green Status internship

We are thrilled to have a small mammal theme for a new placement through Durrell. Salomé has joined us, having previously completed the DESMAN course in Jersey. Salomé is currently based in Colombia. For her internship she is getting to grips with the Green Status of Species and will be developing several small mammal assessments. Having recently updated the Red List accounts for European species, we will be working on a number of these where Green Status assessments would be beneficial.

“I’ll be doing a three-month internship with Durrell, where I’ll be supporting the Specialist Group in conducting Green Status assessments for small European mammals. This incredible opportunity came about through networking efforts following my completion of the Durrell DEMSAN course last April, during which I gained insights into the purpose and significance of Green Status assessments.

SalomeJoining this team is immensely exciting for me as it presents a chance to delve into the process of conducting assessments firsthand. It’s the perfect opportunity to apply the new framework I’ve learned about, which aims to quantify measures of species recovery and conservation success. As an early career conservation biologist, I’m particularly drawn to the Green Status’s focus on understanding how past conservation efforts have impacted species recovery and how current and future actions can contribute to their conservation with a comprehensive and ecologically functional approach. This opportunity will also give me the chance to interact with species specialists and learn about their conservation work on new species for me, which is really exciting!

This aligns perfectly with my overarching goal of comprehending the influence of conservation practices on species recovery. I’m eager to contribute to this innovative approach that transcends survival and extinction avoidance, so I am very excited with the prospect of participating in the development of assessments within this framework.”

The development of the IUCN Green Status of Species Global Standard was led by the IUCN Species Conservation Task Force, in partnership with the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, IUCN Species Survival Commission, Re:wild, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Oxford, Stony Brook University, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Zoological Society of London.

Crazies for Grazies: SMSG welcomes our first small mammal PhD student

Jamaican Hutia. Photo credit: Ricardo Miller

The Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) goes by a few local names, such as the Coney or Grazie. The species is endemic to Jamaica and was moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is a rabbit-sized nocturnal rodent with dark brown through to reddish brown fur and is the only remaining extant non-flying mammal on the island.

As it the case for many species, there are likely to be multiple threats, some of which are poorly understood. It is thought that ongoing human-induced habitat loss and degradation across the island, as well as hunting, continue to be major threats to this species. Predation by introduced dogs, cats, and mongoose may also pose a risk.

PhD student 

Jennifer Panitz started on the London DTP , selecting the project this year.

PhD stduent Jennifer Panitz

Jennifer Panitz

“I am a PhD student at the ZSL Institute of Zoology, University College London, and the Natural History Museum London. My project revolves around the Jamaican Coney (Geocapromys brownii) and the sustainability of human-coney co-existence in Jamaica. Previously I completed an MSc in biodiversity, evolution, and conservation at Middlesex University with a project focusing on microplastics in aquatic snails. I also have a PGCert in Applied Meteorology from the University of Reading. Prior to that I worked as an epidemiologist in the COVID-19 response at Public Health England. I have conducted various research projects in Germany, the United States, and Canada.

I am a proponent of interdisciplinary and collaborative methods and am excited to draw on ecological, anthropological, and genomic approaches for my PhD research. I hope to generate data that will help inform Jamaican Coney conservation and preserve small mammal diversity.” 


The project

Along with the other institutions, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is a CASE partner on the PhD project.

The PhD research will use multiple approaches to answer key questions about the ecology and conservation needs for the species, including:

(1) targeted studies of coney ecology, including how hutias utilise both forest and agricultural land in human-occupied landscapes

(2) ancient DNA work to understand the changing genetic status of coney populations through time, to assess the impact of local human pressures such as hunting over the past century

(3) community-based research to understand people’s knowledge and attitudes about local coney  populations, such as the cultural and financial significance of natural resources, in particular, of coney hunting. These will be used to investigate issues around alleviating human-wildlife conflict associated with coneys as crop pests, and with scope to develop a wider-scale interview survey to help understand the species’ distribution and status across different parts of Jamaica through the use of Local Ecological Knowledge.

One of the likely field sites will be in the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park in Eastern Jamaica.


We would like to say a huge thank you to our SMSG core funders for 2024- Re:wild and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Red List publication: Russian Desmans are now Critically Endangered

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Russian Desmans (Desmana moschata) are semi-aquatic creatures related to moles, with an unusual appearance of rounded bodies, paddle-like feet, flattened tails and long snouts to help them dive and probe for prey underwater. They are the only species that still exist within their genus, and are restricted nowadays to few waterways in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Sadly, numbers of these small mole-mermaids are plummeting: Russian Desmans have been “up-listed” from Endangered to Critically Endangered in the latest IUCN Red List Update (Monday 11th December).  

Based on surveys undertaken in Russia, the decline of this species is estimated to have reached 83% over the previous decade, and it likely facing a similar scenario across the remainder of its fragmented range in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Scientists have suggested that there are probably less than 4,000 individuals remaining in Russia, and potentially only a few hundred in Ukraine.  

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

Russian Desmans have rather strict habitat requirements. They prefer waterbodies 2-6 m in depth with rich water-marsh vegetation, bushes and primary forests along the banks, and with high macroinvertebrate abundance.

It is no surprise, then, that infrastructure-, climate- or pollution-induced changes to waterbodies can have devastating impacts on habitat quality for this species. Perhaps more lethally, the widespread use of stationary fishing nets poses a major threat to desmans. The nets, which are prohibited in many regions, are often left in the water for days or even months, drowning any desmans that accidentally get caught. Introduced predators, e.g., American Mink (Neogale vison), and possible competitors, e.g., Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), may also be a problem.

What’s next? 

In Kazakhstan, the SMSG is supporting a new conservation project with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and researchers at North Kazakhstan University. Initially, the project will explore methods of monitoring desmans, including interview surveys with local water users and environmental DNA screening. Read more about this in our recent article here.

Russian Desmans are often referred to as bioindicators of ecosystem health. Their decline is therefore concerning for freshwater habitats and species on a much broader scale, and it is critical that every effort is made to conserve and, ultimately, downlist Russian Desmans on the Red List.

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Iberian Desman Workshop

Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023

The Iberian Desman

Desmans are semi-aquatic small mammals that are members of the Talpidae mole family. The Iberian Desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, where it is restricted to Andorra, France, northern and central Spain, and northern Portugal. It is one of only two species that still exist, the other being the Russian Desman (Desmana moschata), that is found in areas of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The species is extremely well adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle, where it mainly lives in fast-flowing mountain streams. The species favours watercourses where the margins offer some shelter, and it requires clean and well oxygenated water, mostly due to the requirements of its main prey, aquatic macroinvertebrates. It is therefore a good indicator species for healthy river systems.

Galemys pyrenaicus

Galemys pyrenaicus, photo credit: L. Quaglietta

In recent decades, the Iberian Desman has experienced significant declines across most of its range, resulting in its current IUCN Red List status of Endangered. Unfortunately, the species is affected by a number of threats. The construction of weirs, dams and other infrastructure has isolated populations to the point of high levels of inbreeding and low levels of genetic diversity. The introduction of an invasive predator to many of Europe’s waterways, the American Mink (Neogale vison), has also proven deadly. Further pressure is added by climate change and human activities such as fishing.

The Workshop

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 sign

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 sign

In late November 2023, the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation organised a workshop in Andorra La Vella, Andorra, titled “Towards a transboundary conservation strategy for the Iberian desman (Galemys pyrenaicus)“. This meeting brought together species experts from the four range countries. The workshop was made possible thanks to the generous support and hosting of the event by the Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture and Agriculture of the Government of AndorraFacilitation of the sessions was undertaken by the IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group.

On the final day, participants visited a local hydroelectric plant and dam on the outskirts of Andorra La Vella to find out about the ongoing desman survey work that is taking place and about various mitigations activities to reduce the impact of the infrastructure on the desman population.


Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023

Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023

Iberian Desman workshop presentation 2023

Iberian Desman workshop presentation 2023


Iberian Desman workshop 2023 field trip

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 field trip

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 activity

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 activity

What’s next?

The workshop was the first stage needed to do the groundwork, such as identifying relevant stakeholders for the planning process, in anticipation of a longer action planning exercise which will hopefully take place in 2024.

Russian Desman project in Kazakhstan: Conserving a mole-mermaid!

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

Recently, we heard someone trying to describe what a Russian Desman (Desmana moschata) looks like and the delightful response was that it resembled a mole-mermaid!  Unfortunately, life is no fairytale for this species. Currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, it is expected that the species will be moved to Critically Endangered later this year due to continuing severe declines. Conservation attention is desperately needed, so the SMSG is pleased to be supporting a new conservation project in Kazakhstan. We hope this work, in collaboration with experts across the species’ native range, will contribute to the understanding of the threats to the species and be instrumental in developing conservation actions.  

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

So, what exactly is a Russian Desman?

The Russian Desman (Desmana moschata), an aquatic member of the mole family, is endemic to waterways in European Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The species is pretty unusual, indeed, it features high up on ZSL’s EDGE Mammal List. To get an idea of what this unusual animal is like check out this video. The species is in severe decline, probably due to a number of factors ranging from loss and degradation of lakes and rivers, through to getting snagged up as bycatch in fishing nets.

Abandoned fishing net in lake

Abandoned fishing net in lake (Photo credit: R. Kennerley)

June expedition

In June of 2023, Dr Ros Kennerley (SMSG Co-Chair) and Prof. Sam Turvey (SMSG Conservation Coordinator) visited the stunning rivers and oxbow lakes that surround the Ural river in northwestern Kazakhstan to start a conservation project in the region.  The in-country partners for this project are the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and researchers at North Kazakhstan University. One of the project fieldsites is Kirsanov Nature Sanctuary, which is a vast expanse of meandering rivers and lakes with wooded banks that borders Russia.

Kazakhstan Russian Desman team

Kazakhstan Russian Desman team – Dr Ros Kennerley, Prof. Sam Turvey, Dr Alyona Koshkina and Michail Shpigelman

Fieldwork in Kirsanov Nature Sanctuary in Northwest Kazakhstan (photo credit: R. Kennerley)

Visiting an oxbow lake

Visiting an oxbow lake (Photo credit: A. Koshkina)


What is happening? 

Field staff have been trained up and are currently out and about testing novel ways to collect the essential data needed to monitor and inform conservation actions. Interview surveys with local water users and environmental DNA screening are being trialled in known desman landscapes, and the results of these will be compared with data collected using traditional methods to monitor desmans by counting active burrows. The project aims to determine which approach is most efficient, cost- and labour-effective, and easy to conduct by local researchers.

Trailling a Local Ecological Knowledge questionnaire

Trialing a Local Ecological Knowledge questionnaire (photo credit: R. Kennerley)

Next steps

While we await the data and analyses from the trials, the project will examine the historical distributions of the species across the country and use various mapping data layers to unpick the likely causes of decline in Kazakhstan. Ultimately, the project aims to develop a long-term conservation monitoring and management plan with agreed goals, visions, milestones and stakeholder responsibilities, at both national and landscape levels.


We would like to express our huge thanks to our three funders for this project: The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, SSC EDGE Internal Grant, and Stiftung Artenschutz. We are also grateful for the support to our SMSG core costs from Re:wild, the Zoological Society of London and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

SMSG Summer Internship

Our team based in the UK is delighted to have been joined by student Thi Nguyen on a summer internship placement 

Summer intern Thi

Summer intern Thi

During my internship with the IUCN SSC Small Mammal Specialist Group, my primary focus is on developing a comprehensive field guide dedicated to the small mammals of Sulawesi. This was a significant outcome stemming from the Sulawesi Small Mammal Workshop that took place in May. Throughout this project, I look forward to learning more about small mammals and collaborating with others. Prior to this internship, I completed my third year of studying biology at the University of Oxford, during which I developed my interest in conservation science. I am particularly interested in human-wildlife conflict, and the strategies needed to mitigate these for optimal conservation outcomes. Next year, as part of my integrated masters, I will be investigating the mechanisms by which habitat degradation influences gharial reproductive fitness through its impacts on female aggression. Through this, I hope to provide valuable insights for conservation efforts targeting this critically endangered species.

Overall, I am excited to be joining SMSG for a period as this opportunity aligns well with my career aspirations and allows me to make a meaningful contribution to the field of conservation.

Rediscovery of the elusive Seram Orange Melomys

Many poorly-known small mammals have remained undetected for decades. It’s not all doom and gloom though: a recent scientific paper “Continued survival of the elusive Seram orange melomys (Melomys fulgens)” documents that a species previously unrecorded since 1920 appears to be surviving on the island of Seram, Indonesia. Hopefully this is good news not just for this species, but for other ‘Lost’ mammals of Seram.

The paper is co-authored by two of the SMSG core team- Prof. Sam Turvey (ZSL) and Dr Ros Kennerley (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) and describes evidence of the survival of Melomys fulgens, a distinctive orange murid. M. fulgens is one of five endemic rodents described from Seram, known only from their first official descriptions – some of which date back to over a century ago – and having remained undetected in surveys ever since.

The evidence for the survival of the Seram Orange Melomys in the latest research paper comes from expeditions in 1993 and 1994, plus a more recent study of local ecological knowledge in 2017.

1993/94 expeditions

Two trips to the island were made during these years and three individuals of the species were captured, proving that the species was extant in the 1990s.

Melomys fulgens in a cage; credit: K. Leus

Melomys fulgens in a cage. Credit: K. Leus

Melomys fulgens in cage. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland.

Melomys fulgens in cage. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland

Melomys fulgens specimens. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland.

Melomys fulgens specimens. Photo credit: National Museums Scotland.

Using Local Ecological Knowledge

In 2017 interviews took place with people in six villages along Seram’s north coast. The questionnaire asked about people’s knowledge of local wildlife and forest activities and the results provided valuable insights into the fauna and how people use the landscape. Excitingly, several respondents said that they had seen the species in the previous months and recent years.

What does this mean for its conservation?

Findings indicate relatively widespread distribution of M. fulgens in coastal forest across Seram, including sites adjacent to Manusela National Park (see map), with local suggestions that it occurs throughout the lowland forest zone to its upper elevational limit. This means that using the limited known localities and continuing loss of Seram’s lowland forest, we propose a new Red List assessment of Vulnerable. The next steps are to work with local NGOs to consider conservation actions to help bolster the species.

Map of Seram, showing collection
locations of Melomys fulgens specimens and
reports (white circles), and boundary of Manusela National

This rediscovery not only raises hope for the continued survival of Seram’s other ‘lost’ mammals and tropical small mammal diversity in general, but also demonstrates the importance of local ecological knowledge in detecting distinctive species in poorly-studied regions. 

To find out more about Re:wild’s Lost Species click here

Do you have a Lost small mammal you’d like to search for? 
If so, please click here to contact us.

Saving the Cuban Solenodon

Our team are working in Cuba to learn more about the globally endangered and evolutionarily distinct Cuban Solenodon. Threatened by habitat loss and introduced predators, we will harness the expertise of local rural communities by producing a written plan for the conservation of the species.


The Cuban solenodon (Atopogale cubana), known locally as the ‘almiquí’, is one of the most evolutionarily unique species on the planet. Along with the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), they are the only surviving members of a mammalian lineage that can be traced back virtually unchanged to the Cretaceous period (145 to 66 million years ago). Recent estimates suggest that the group’s nearest closest relatives are the true shrews (Eulipotyphla).

Nocturnal and weighing about 1kg, they are difficult to study and have been declared extinct on numerous occasions. Recent discoveries of living specimens have given hope to the continued survival of the almiqui. However, systematic studies are needed to determine an understanding of their current population dynamics, natural history and ecology as well as the threats they may face in an ever-changing world.

Cuban solenodons along with the Desmarest’s hutia (Capromys pilorides), are two out of 13 remaining endemic land mammals of the Caribbean. Solenodons are approximately the size of a football and despite having the ability to climb, are mainly ground dwelling. They have a rougher and darker coat differing from their Hispaniolan cousins. A long, flexible snout with a supporting bone allows them to forage for invertebrate prey, although they lack the ball and socket joint which is characteristic of the Hispaniolan solenodon. One of the species’ unique traits includes their venomous saliva which is injected into prey through specially modified teeth. The name “solenodon” originates from the Greek word for “grooved teeth”.

They can run and climb quickly, however, have a clumsy gait which leaves them vulnerable to introduced predators such as feral dogs. Predation by introduced predators, as well as habitat loss, are the two main threats to the species. Due to a lack of systematic scientific research, the extent of these threats remains unknown hindering vital conservation action.

Studying the almiquí presents some unique challenges that our partnership hopes to overcome. This species may still be found in the pristine mountains of the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. However, these areas are located at an altitude of 740 m above sea level and are extremely difficult to access. Our research team will need to carry everything they require for at least 20-30 days in the field, using pack animals since these areas are only accessible by foot. The team of researchers working to save this unique species not only have to face the difficulty of traversing the inaccessible terrain, they will also have to deal with limited resources including lab access to run samples which is only available in the capital, Havana.


We plan to conduct a series of field surveys across the species’ range in the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. The knowledge of local rural communities will be used to identify and increase our understanding of the threats facing almiquí throughout its last remaining stronghold.

By the end of our first year, we aim to test the feasibility of detecting the almiquí using different field methods including camera trapping, indirect field signs and the use of scent dogs. From this point we will decide our approach to studying the almiquí. Deciding on the most appropriate sampling techniques and survey design, we aim to map the distribution of the species throughout the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Finally, we will conduct a pilot study sampling across the suspected species’ range detecting almiquí presence or absence.

By the end of our third year, we aim to create a written plan for Cuban solenodon conservation by consolidating the findings of our research efforts from our first year. Next, we will prepare and pilot local ecological knowledge surveys, with the help from local communities, we will survey in at least three villages within or close to the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park to better understand the threats towards this species.


Through a partnership with the IUCN Small Mammal Specialist Group, there are opportunities for collaborations with local biologists in Cuba. In Humboldt NP, Norvis Hernández from the Ministry of Sciences, Technology and Environment in Cuba will lead the fieldwork and has considerable expertise in the natural history of the study region. We are also partnering with Zoo New England, who have adopted the Cuban Solenodon Conservation Project as one of its new Conservation Partnerships, providing expertise and support for our fieldwork activities.

The SMSG core team have a wealth of experience working in the Caribbean, particularly on the sister species found on the island of Hispaniola. The Last Survivors project ran for several years researching the two remaining endemic non-flying mammals in neighbouring Haiti and the Dominican Republic. During the project activities ranged from developing survey methodology, understanding the genetic status and health of the populations, undertaking Local Ecological Knowledge surveys, all of which can be developed to study the Cuban species.

The author

Connor Panter

Connor joined the team on a 3 month internship in mid-2021 where he supported the SMSG Key Species programme. Connor is currently studying for a PhD in Environmental Geography at the University of Nottingham, UK.