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In defence of rodents – why healthy ecosystems need them

The following article is authored by Ros Kennerley (SMSG Co-Chair), Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer), and Connor Panter (PhD candidate), and has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

You might think you have the measure of the rodent family. Perhaps just the word “rodent” conjures images of invasive rats, those urban denizens accused of spreading pathogens and parasites, chewing through wires and spoiling food.

Most rodents are, in fact, more elusive and inhabit quiet corners of rainforests, mountains, deserts and rivers. These small mammals have filled a niche in nature for at least the last 56 million years, and from shrew-rats to true rats and hamsters to beavers, rodents play an important role in ecosystems worldwide.

Yet, a huge number of rodent species are on the brink of extinction. Eking out an existence in shrinking habitats and under threat from persecution, pollution and climate change, rodents are overwhelmingly neglected by research and funding that might help to protect them. We are three conservation scientists determined to show that this is a mistake – and change your mind about these misunderstood creatures.

A small mouse on a bramble branch with blackberries.

Dormice can hibernate for six months or longer. Slowmotiongli/Shutterstock

More than vermin

Roughly 40% of all mammal species are rodents. There are around 2,375 living species, spanning mice, rats, squirrels, hamsters, voles, porcupines, lemmings, beavers, chinchillas, chipmunks and more. The number of recognised rodent species is still growing and at a seemingly faster rate than other mammal groups including bats, primates and carnivores. Between two comprehensive checklists of global mammal species produced in 2005 and 2018, an additional 371 rodents were officially recognised.

New discoveries are often the result of genetic work that has identified multiple similar-looking species previously described as one. Nonetheless, from the 3g desert-dwelling jerboa to the 50kg semiaquatic capybara, rodents are a remarkably diverse bunch.

This diversity allows rodents to play numerous roles in Earth’s ecosystems. Rodents have a hand (or rather, paw) in determining which plants propagate and where by eating and dispersing their seeds. Beavers engineer entire ecosystems with their dams which help to purify water systems and moderate floods and droughts, while burrowing kangaroo rats create subterranean habitats used by other wildlife. Rodents are also an invaluable link in the food chain, sustaining predators which include birds of prey, wolves, snakes and even spiders.

We shouldn’t forget that humans have long benefited from relationships with rodents. Agoutis in South America are one of the few animal groups capable of cracking open the capsules of the Brazil nut fruit. By hoarding excess seeds, agoutis help disperse their trees throughout the Amazon rainforest and support the global production of Brazil nuts, which is almost entirely dependent on wild harvests. African giant pouched rats can detect tuberculosis in saliva, hidden land mines, survivors trapped under rubble and pangolins smuggled in shipping containers. By studying the resistance of naked mole-rats to cancer, scientists hope to improve our understanding of the disease and its potential treatment. It’s clear that the loss of a rodent species – even the smallest – can have cascading consequences for humans and the environment.

A grizzled giant squirrel, native to Sri Lanka. Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock

Underfunded, understudied and disappearing

Worryingly, at least 15% of rodent species are threatened with extinction. More than 100 are among the top 560-ranked Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals, meaning that while they are threatened, they also have few or no close relatives. If an EDGE species were to disappear, there would be nothing really like them left.

For many more species, scientists simply don’t know enough to understand how they are faring: the population trend (whether they are stable, declining or increasing) of at least a thousand rodents is unknown. Even when it comes to zoonotic disease, there are substantial gaps in our knowledge of viruses in rodents and how outbreaks might be influenced by their ecology or population dynamics. The reality is that rodents receive very little scientific attention beyond their discovery and naming.

Rodents are a hard sell outside science too. Studies on the public perception of wildlife demonstrate that rodents are generally the least favoured group. Compared to larger-bodied mammals, rodents and small mammals are referred to on Twitter substantially less, not considered as interesting by zoo visitors and inspire fewer donations to conservation schemes. Even the bigger rodents such as beavers are outranked by large carnivores, birds, moths and bees in public preference surveys.

A beaver in water gnawing on a branch.

Even beavers can’t beat the anti-rodent bias. WildMedia/Shutterstock

It is no surprise then that some species have already fallen through the cracks. The little Swan Island hutia, a rodent once endemic to Caribbean islands of the same name, was driven to extinction in 1960 by introduced cats. The Candango mouse disappeared during a similar period in central Brazil, where its forest habitat was almost entirely paved over. Australia’s Bramble Cay melomys was declared extinct as recently as 2016 after rising sea levels gradually degraded the tiny coral island on which it lived. The loss of this rodent is thought to be the first modern mammal extinction caused by climate change.

Some rodents remain unstudied for so long that it’s not known whether they still exist. Gould’s mouse, a species also native to Australia, was thought to be extinct for 150 years before it was recently rediscovered surviving on islands off of western Australia. Another, the Namdapha flying squirrel, was thought to be extinct in the wild until a single specimen was collected in 1981 from northeast India. The species is now listed as critically endangered and is currently known only from informal sightings dated decades ago. Of the world’s rediscovered species, the data shows that rodents remain missing for the longest time, probably because there are not enough people looking for them.

Even well-monitored or well-known rodents aren’t safe. The common hamster is listed as critically endangered, and could die out in coming decades unless its decline is reversed. Its popular pet cousin, the golden (or Syrian) hamster, is also endangered in the wild, clinging on to its last fragment of habitat.

Many rodents can adapt well to landscapes altered by people, but others cannot adjust to this rat race and exist only in dwindling and deteriorating wildernesses. It is likely that we have already lost many species which we never even knew existed.

The first step towards recovering many threatened yet overlooked species may be to alter our own perceptions and behaviour. For the little guys like rodents, this means appreciating that even though they are perhaps not as glamorous or mighty as many flagship conservation species, we are far more dependent on their biodiversity than we might imagine.The Conversation

Read the original article on The Conversation here.

Research and awareness programme to begin for the endangered Baer’s Wood Mouse

Baer’s Wood Mouse (Hylomyscus baeri) has been scarcely studied. It was officially described in the 1960s but is still only known from a few localities in West Africa. This species is listed as Endangered in the most recent IUCN Red List assessment, given that it has only been found in small area where it is declining in number and losing habitat. 

This distinctive, tawny brown mouse is larger than its more common cousin, the West African Wood Mouse (H. simus), with a white underbelly bordered with a yellowish line of fur, long slender tail and comparatively large eyes and ears. It has only been formally recorded a handful of times in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, with single records also known from Sierra Leone and Guinea. It has been found in secondary forest, forest edge and plantations and, more recently, swamp forest. We know little more about this species’ ecology or life history.

Baer’s Wood Mouse depicted in Wilson et al. 2017.

We are pleased to report that SMSG member and conservation scientist Prince Adu-Tutu has been awarded a Rufford Foundation grant to study Baer’s Wood Mouse in Ghana and start to fill some of the gaps in knowledge. Prince’s project has 3 primary objectives to: 

  • estimate the population and distribution of the Baer’s Wood Mouse, 
  • identify the major threats and drivers to the Baer’s Wood Mouse and its habitat, and  
  • launch a conservation education and awareness campaign in selected fringe communities to enhance understanding of the Baer’s Wood Mouse, threats to the forest habitat and the value of biodiversity. 

From left to right: Researcher Prince Adu-Tutu; survey team with forest guide; setting up a Sherman trap. Source: Prince Adu-Tutu.

From early next year, Prince will be conducting his fieldwork with a team of colleagues from two local NGOs in Ghana: EcoWild Conservation and the Institute of Nature and Environmental Conservation. Once accessible sampling sites have been identified within two southern forest reserves, Prince will be deploying a series of Sherman traps to measure small mammal presence in the area. 

Unfortunately, the reserves are under threat of deforestation for agriculture and illegal logging. Many small rodents are further at risk from people where they may be perceived either to be a nuisance, or a source of food. With his awareness campaign, Prince therefore hopes to reinforce the importance of these reserves for rare species such as Baer’s Wood Mouse, and hopefully help to stimulate greater interest in rodent conservation. 

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

Baer’s Wood Mouse image: Wilson, D.E., Mittermeier, R.A. and Lacher, T.E. (2017): Muridae. In: Handbook of the Mammals of the World – Volume 7 Rodents II.

Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig: the rarest rodent in the world?

Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig (Cavia intermedia) has the smallest geographical distribution of any known mammal. It occurs on a 10-ha island within the coastal archipelago of Moleques do Sul in Santa Catarina State, Brazil. This small, scrubby island is home to a few handfuls of guinea pigs, and has been for thousands of years. 

It is thought most likely that Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig descended from another guinea pig, C. magna, inhabiting the nearby Santa Catarina coastline. The guinea pigs became isolated on Moleques do Sul probably when rising seas formed the archipelago some 8,000 years ago. Since then, relatively little has changed. The island hosts no significant predators, competitors or humans, and its supply of food for herbivores is plentiful – a perfect scenario for the guinea pigs. 

Over time, characteristics of this species have been shaped by island conditions in a phenomenon termed “island syndrome”. Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pigs have high survival rates, small home ranges and slow reproductive processes relative to that of similar continental species. Consequently, their population is small in number; surveys undertaken in 2004-2005 suggested that the island was inhabited by less than 50 individuals which qualified the guinea pigs for Critically Endangered status on the IUCN Red List. The IUCN later cited them in a list of the 100 most threatened species on the planet 

Despite their small numbers, the Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig population might in fact be considered stable – it is highly possible that numbers have remained unchanged for centuries. Such a small population, nevertheless, is extremely vulnerable to chance events that could have a critical impact on the species. Insular rodent populations in the past have fallen victim to pathogen introduction or rising sea levels. For the guinea pigs, additional threats include fire, poaching and general human disturbance; the island is sometimes accessed illegally by fishermen who station themselves there overnight.

Surveying and safeguarding island guinea pigs

Camera on Moleques do Sul

Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pigs have scarcely been studied. They were discovered only a few decades ago and, since then, any effort to monitor them has been made difficult by the limited accessibility to the archipelago. One researcher, however, is committed to conserving this species.  

Brazilian biologist Dr Carlos Henrique Salvador is the Small Mammal Specialist Group’s Key Species Champion for Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pig. Carlos led the initial project to survey the guinea pigs in 2004-2005 and is today working on monitoring the current population using a network of trail and security cameras, which were kindly funded by a Greensboro Science Center (GSC) grant. After testing the sampling design, the data gathered will ultimately be used to investigate things such as population size and feeding areas.  

Captured by a Greensboro Science Center-funded camera trap

“The general goals are to monitor the species remotely, its habitat, and illegal use of the island by humans,” explained Carlos. “We have over 1 terabyte of images to process from the first sampling period. However, the island conditions make it difficult for deploying and running electronic devices, and adjustments will need to be made for future sampling rounds.” 

In recent years, Carlos and his colleagues have also published a species action plan for Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pigs. The action plan focuses on increasing monitoring efforts – which have of course been initiated – and also deals with how to protect the island from illegal use whilst raising more awareness of this species. 

It is hoped that such conservation and monitoring efforts will be enough to keep the population safe and stable. Although it may be the rarest rodent in the world, Carlos says “I am optimist, and I believe we can mitigate the risks posed to Santa Catarina’s Guinea Pigs.”

Check out some of the footage captured on one of Carlos’ GSC camera traps below!

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

Images & video: Carlos Henrique Salvador & Tabuleiro Institute

New SMSG paper on species prioritization

The Small Mammal Specialist Group (SMSG) is happy to report the recent publication of a paper in the open-access journal Diversity detailing the process, and results, of species prioritization exercises for conservation planning and action. The exercises were carried out by the SMSG as well as a second IUCN SSC specialist group, the Antelope Specialist Group (ASG). 

Given the limited resources and finances available in conservation, strategically determining which species to focus on can be the most fair and effective way to guide conservation efforts. But how do we do this? Simply selecting species based on the level of threat they face, for example, ignores the importance of functional and phylogenetic diversity.  

It can therefore be helpful to use systematic prioritization methods that incorporate multiple criteria. Previous examples have included the ranking of species based on e.g., the cost and logistics of a project, the likelihood of conservation success, and/or metrics of species value, such as their status as an umbrella species, evolutionary distinctness, or cultural significance. Sometimes, these criteria are assigned different weightings depending on their relative importance. There exists no universal method for selecting and using such criteria, however. 

Selecting small mammals 

For large taxonomic groups such as small mammals (encompassing over 2,800 rodents, eulipotyphlans and tree shrews), prioritization approaches are invaluable in identifying how to best allocate already-stretched conservation resources. As such, in 2018, the SMSG developed and undertook a species prioritization exercise in Mexico. Mexico had been previously highlighted as a region with high aggregations of both globally threatened and data deficient small mammals. 

Mexico species prioritization workshop

Experts in Mexico first undertook a high level review of the Red List status of each of the 76 small mammal species found in the country. Those identified as Critically Endangered were then assessed against variables such as threat status, the proportion of a population falling within protected areas, and extent of existing captive breeding or conservation management efforts. Species were then scored based on urgency of conservation action, feasibility (i.e., the capacity to implement conservation action and research), and the number of other threatened small mammals that would also benefit from conservation action for said species.  

The top six species identified were those with the highest scores – all were rodents with highly restricted ranges, three of which are found only on islands (Cozumel Harvest, Catalina Deer and Angel Island mice). Based on these scores, draft action plans have since been developed and channeled into attempts to secure conservation funds. Proposals for the Cozumel Harvest Mouse and Angel Island Mouse have, however, been unsuccessful, something which the authors describe as “a recurring difficulty in supporting rodent conservation”.

Nevertheless, the Diversity paper sets out a framework that proved to be effective in selecting species to prioritize. It also underlines the importance of participation from regional experts; without local expertise, the feasibility of working on particular fauna can be misjudged. Some species, for example, might occur in regions where local experts know that opportunities to conduct field research or conservation activities are limited by economic or safety considerations. 

One of the top 6 species: Magdalena Rat

Overall, the framework jointly developed by the ASG and SMSG was successfully fed into prioritization exercises for the respective groups, with the results leading to new proposals and increased interest in certain species of conservation concern. The framework will be applied again in future workshops; for small mammals, there are plans to conduct a similar assessment in Sulawesi later this year. 

Lacher T.E., Mallon, D., Kennerley, R.J., Relton, C. and Young, R.P. (2022) Tools and metrics for species prioritization for conservation planning and action: Case studies for antelopes and small mammals. Diversity 14(9) 704. 

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)


How gold mining is threatening Chile’s endangered chinchillas

The chinchilla, a small, nocturnal South American rodent, has previously been pushed to the brink of extinction for its prize fur. It is now protected from hunting but remains at risk as demand increases for another high-value product  –  gold. 

Chinchilla sp.

The two species of chinchilla (the long-tailed Chinchilla lanigera and the short-tailed Chinchilla chinchilla) were once widespread across the coastal regions and foothills of the Andes in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. Commercial hunting for fur drove their numbers down dramatically from the 19th century, and at one point, half a million skins were being exported per year. A ban on hunting in 1929 increased the value of their fur even more and intensified demand. By the mid-1900s, it was thought that chinchillas had been hunted to extinction. 

Fortunately, C. lanigera and C. chinchilla populations were rediscovered in northern Chile by the turn of the century, and a colony of C. chinchilla was additionally found in Bolivia in 2017. However, the rediscovered chinchilla populations are small and isolated – chinchillas live in colonies made of modest family groups, hundreds of kilometres away from the next. Numbers continue to decline and, currently, they are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List 

Sitting on a gold mine 

Camera trap images of long-tailed chinchillas. Source: Amy Deane.

In addition to poaching and habitat loss associated with agricultural and grazing activities, mining has become a substantial threat to chinchillas. Multiple colonies in Chile are known to be living on top of huge quantities of extractable gold.  

According to the Chilean government’s national chinchilla conservation plan, mining activities lead to the loss and degradation of habitat, and directly impact individuals or colonies through noise or vibration disturbance, death or displacement of individuals, and loss of food resources.  

Amy Deane, who is a member of the Small Mammal Specialist Group and founder of Save The Wild Chinchillas, has stressed that gold mines pose a grave threat, particularly given the slow reproductive rate of this species (one or two young are produced per litter, once or twice a year).

 “Both species of wild chinchillas are paper protected, meaning that they are protected by laws and treaties,” says Amy. “However, the reality is that their protection in disputed areas, such as mining concessions, is continually under threat, and there is growing pressure to ease some of the restrictions safeguarding those populations.” 

Challenges for chinchilla mitigation

Effort has been made to mitigate the impact of mining developments on chinchillas by translocating individuals out of sites earmarked for gold extraction. However, these attempts have not yet been successful: in northern Chile, at a site owned by the company Gold Fields, translocation plans were halted in 2020 after two of four relocated chinchillas died in a soft-release enclosure and a third was found injured. This might have been down to acute stress caused by a disruption to the chinchillas’ social structure, handling procedures and movement to a new site.  

Such negative outcomes are not unusual in small mammal translocation attempts (e.g. Matějů et al. 2010; Tennant and Germano 2017, Rayner et al. 2021). Some rodents, for example, have shown high levels of homing behaviour when relocated short distances from their original range, and increased mortality when translocated over larger distances. Strong justification is therefore needed for translocation projects and, at the very least, there should be sufficient species knowledge to inform such projects. 

Case studies of chinchilla translocations are unfortunately lacking. In fact, relatively little is known about the basic biology of these animals. Without this fundamental information, it’s not clear how mining developments will move forward, only that they are indeed expected to move forward: Gold Fields intends to commence gold production when construction is completed later this year. 

It is not yet known whether the government will be allowing further translocation attempts or pushing for alternative mitigation measures. In the meantime, Amy and her colleagues at Save The Wild Chinchillas are working hard to spread awareness of the plight of the chinchillas, and to find a way to ensure the protection of the dwindling colonies that live atop unmined gold. 

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

SMSG research wins a silver BIAZA award

The annual British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) awards celebrate the achievements of zoo associations in fields such as Education, Conservation and Research. This year, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has received a silver BIAZA award for research exploring global hotspots of, and research priorities for, the world’s Rodentia and Eulipotyphla. The project titled Scaling up small-mammal conservation: setting global priorities for understudied and overlooked species, was led by the Small Mammal Specialist Group (SMSG) with partners at Durrell – who host the SMSG Co-Chair and Programme Officer roles – as well as Texas A&M University, the Zoological Society of London and Re:wild. 

Small mammals exhibit remarkable functional, morphological and phylogenetic diversity. They include some of the world’s most primitive mammal taxa and can be found in virtually every terrestrial ecosystem. Yet, despite this, they are frequently overlooked in conservation science: research confirms that the poorly studied and largely ignored mammal species are those present in countries with limited scientific capacity, those that have been described only recently, or those that are small in size.

The SMSG’s award-winning project has therefore been an important step forward for the small mammal field. Using information gathered from the IUCN Red List, the aim of this project was to identify small mammal hotspots across the globe where conservation actions could have the greatest impact. The work focuses on the orders Eulipotyphla (e.g. hedgehogs, shrews, moles and solenodons) and Rodentia (e.g. rats, mice, squirrels, beavers and porcupines) which, together, make up nearly half of all living mammal species.  

Project outcomes 

In total, 76 of 454 known eulipotyphlan species and 324 of 2,231 known rodent species are classified as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List. By analysing the distribution and richness of these groups, multiple hotspots were identified: for eulipotyphlans, three regions (Sri Lanka, Western Ghats and Cameroonian Highlands) were found to contain disproportionately more at-risk species than expected. For rodents, six regions (in Mexico, Cameroonian Highlands, Southwestern Ghats, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia) are inhabited by disproportionately more at-risk species than would be expected.  

The researchers further reported that much of the globe’s small mammal diversity does not fall within protected areas. Protected areas are considered “the single most important conservation tool yet are very rarely set up with small mammals in mind. In fact, five eulipotyphlans and 44 rodents were found to occur in regions completely outside of any protected site. 

The study additionally highlighted regions with the highest numbers of ‘data deficient’ small mammals, i.e. species for which insufficient population or distribution information is available to make a Red List assessment. These areas – within Central and South America – require urgent research attention.  

Moving forward, the SMSG have used these results to inform action on the ground. The SMSG recently hosted a small mammal workshop in one of the identified priority regions, Mexico, with plans to replicate this in more key regions in the future. Such workshops bring together experts from government, academia, NGOs and other stakeholders, facilitating the development of prioritisation methods and species action plans. 

The recognition of this work in the BIAZA annual awards is a great achievement for the SMSG and shines a light on the group’s contributions to raising the profile of, researching and conserving small mammals – congratulations to everyone involved! 

You can read the full research paper here.

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

The Malagasy giant jumping rat is uplisted to Critically Endangered

The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat – endemic to Madagascar – has been under pressure from habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation for years. Now, in the latest IUCN Red List update, this species has been moved to a higher threat category, from Endangered to Critically Endangered.

The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat is the only living species in the ‘jumping rat’ genus Hypogeomys. As its name suggests, this forest-dwelling rodent has an impressive jumping ability. Its disproportionately large back feet help it to spring almost one metre into the air when evading predators. Such rabbit-like quirks of the jumping rat can also be seen in its nesting behaviour; during the day, it rests in an underground burrow complex. At night, it becomes active to forage for fallen fruit, leaves and seeds. The burrows of the Malagasy giant jumping rat are relatively high maintenance with entrances that are excavated and re-sealed every time a rat leaves and returns. Rather unusually, this rodent lives in its burrows in social monogamy: a male and female pair will remain together until one mate dies. 

Today, this unique species is found in only two isolated fragments of the Menabe region on the west coast of Madagascar, occupying a total area of less than 200km2. Fossil evidence indicates that a millennium ago the range of the Malagasy giant jumping rat would have extended much further south. 

Substantial habitat loss across this species’ historical range has been the result of climate-related aridification as well as human activities. Slash and burn agriculture, logging, charcoal production and illegal maize and peanut production have all contributed to unprecedented rates of deforestation in the now protected Menabe Antimena area: by 2014, approximately 4,000 hectares of forest was being lost per year. 

Habitat loss is not the only threat the giant jumping rat faces. It may be susceptible to hantaviruses recently detected in other rodents in Madagascar, as well as the negative impacts of feral cats and dogs which pose a risk as predators as well as carriers of disease. 

These challenges have driven a severe and ongoing drop in numbers of the giant jumping rat. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust undertook urgent survey work in the field in 2019 (even capturing rare footage of the rodents) and, based on the results of such surveys, the population was estimated to have declined by 88% between the years 2007-2019. In the northern fragment of its range, this decline reached 92% over the same period. Approximately just 5,000 individuals remain and the alarming reduction in numbers is what qualifies the Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat for Critically Endangered status. 

Can the Malagasy giant jumping rat bounce back from the brink of extinction? 

This rodent has a slow reproductive strategy. Only one or two young are produced per litter and sexual maturity of females is likely not reached until after two years. Its low reproductive output in combination with rapid habitat destruction and other fast-acting threats highlights the urgency of conservation efforts for this species. 

In captivity, conservation action for the giant jumping rat has been ongoing since the 1990s when Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust established the first ‘safety net’ population in Jersey Zoo. In the wild, the forest in which the jumping rat resides was granted statutory protection in 2006, though this has not alleviated the significant threat of illegal deforestation. 

There is now a need to focus efforts on stricter habitat protection measures, investigate the potential pathogens threatening this species, control feral dogs and cats and, ideally, establish a comprehensive action plan for saving the species. Without any intensive conservation intervention or habitat security, the Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat could disappear forever. 

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)


Abi Gazzard joins the SMSG team!

The IUCN SSC Small Mammal Specialist Group is delighted to welcome Abi as the new SMSG Programme Officer. Abi joined the team in May 2022 and will be based at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Her role will involve working alongside the team to deliver Red List assessments and other key activities. Abi’s interest in small mammals grew from her MSc project, in which she conducted an occupancy study of the West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) using footprint tracking tunnels in the UK. She then went on to complete a PhD at the University of Reading in 2022 again focusing on West European hedgehogs, but specifically in urban areas. Her research incorporated a range of methodological approaches, such as radio tracking and citizen science surveys, to study conservation actions and hedgehog activity primarily in residential gardens. Beyond hedgehogs, Abi has previously worked on projects with wildlife researchers in Malaysia and Europe. She hopes to continue expanding her knowledge of, and contributing to the conservation of, Eulipotyphlans and other small mammals.

Welcome to the team Abi!


My internship experience: Erika Lau

My six month internship at Durrell Wildlife Trust and the IUCN SSC Small Mammal Specialist Group has been an exciting and fulfilling adventure. Despite having spent the majority of my time working remotely, the distance felt much shorter with a team that made me feel very much welcomed. I looked forward to our Durrell weekly Monday catch up sessions, always getting inspired by the exciting fieldwork my other colleagues have planned. Coming directly into the internship from my academic studies, this internship was great exposure to the working world of conservation. As my tasks were wide-ranged, I was able to experience what it was like to work in multiple dimensions of conservation and decide whether I enjoyed it. I not only acquired more knowledge of small mammals and their ecology, but I also further sharpened my research and writing abilities. From writing my first press release for the conservation status change of the Pyrenean Desman, to amending Red List accounts on the water vole and Sinharaja shrew, to submitting an article on the Southeast Asian rodent meat trade for publication, these tasks honed my ability to be an independent researcher. One of the perks of working in a reputable organisation such as this one is the connections I have made, especially with TRAFFIC and Wildlife Conservation Society. These connections will no doubt be useful in the future as I continue my journey as a conservation scientist. Finally, I would like to personally thank my supervisor, Ros, for her guidance and support throughout my internship, and for overall making my experience more pleasant and enjoyable. 

The author

Erika Lau

Erika joined the team on a 6 month internship in late 2021 where she supported the SMSG Key Species programme. Erika is a recent graduate from Imperial College London, where she completed an MRes in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation.

The search for lost species continues…

The Togo Mouse and the Dwarf Hutia join the list of most wanted lost species

In 2017, Re:wild began a global mission to locate and protect 25 of the most wanted lost species, and since then the team has rediscovered 8 of the species scientists had feared to be globally extinct in the wild. The Togo Mouse from West Africa, and the Dwarf Hutia from Cuba now join an additional 6 species added to the new Re:wild top 25 most wanted lost species list. This rebooted Search for Lost Species was launched this month in collaboration with Tyler Thrasher, an extremely talented artist and conservationist.

The Togo Mouse (Leimacomys buettneri) was last seen in 1890 when it was first collected about 20 km east of Kyabobo Range National Park (KRNP) near the border between Ghana and Togo. Until now, there has been limited effort to locate the species using suitable trapping methodologies, but staff from KRNP believe they know the species and refer to it locally as “Yefuli”, thus hope remains that the species may have survived within the forests of West Africa.   

The Dwarf Hutia (Mesocapromys nanus) is a guinea pig-like rodent from Cuba, last collected in 1951. They are believed to build small platforms with holes as refuges in the dry islets and forest outcrops in the Zapata Swamp. Possible evidence of a nest and some suspicious scat was located in 1978, but continued efforts in this largely inaccessible swampy region are needed to confirm the status of the species.

These species join the Ilin Island Cloudrunner, another small mammal on the original top 25 most wanted list. This quest for lost species continues to inspire hope for the rediscovery of these lesser-known and often overlooked species.