The olinguito is an arboreal member of the raccoon and coati family, first described in 2013. It eluded scientists until then due to its restricted range, elusive nature and because until recently it was believed to be a high elevation variety of a similar species. These extremely fuzzy long tailed tree dwellers are well adapted for life in the high canopy in the high Andes. Their thick coat keeps them warm at night, where they seek refuge in vine tangles, holes in trees are where trees have fallen together in the high winds of the Andes. Their long tail helps them balance while navigating the treetops looking for bird nests, small mammals and other prey items. Olinguitos give hope that there are still amazing species to be discovered around the world.
The Eastern Cordillera Real Montane Forests ecoregion is located on the eastern slopes of the middle Andes, extending north-south from southern Colombia, through Ecuador, and into northern Peru. This rugged premontane habitat receives between 1,500–2,000 mm of annual precipitation, but can occasionally reach 4,500 mm. The dominant vegetation in this region varies dramatically with altitude, which ranges from 900 to over 2,100 m. In general, the plant communities here are tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved forests. The lower elevational areas consist of closed canopy forests.
As elevation increases, forest stature decreases proportionally and at higher elevations grades into cloud forests and finally elfin woodlands. It has the lowest altitude pass in the Andes range, 2,000 m, at the Huancabamba Depression, which allows organisms from the Amazon region to move westward to the lowlands of the Pacific, and vice versa. The region is the most important topographic and geologic filter/barrier in the central Andes and affects biotic migration and Andean speciation.
The characteristic mammal species of the ecoregion include the primates Venezuelan red howler, white fronted capuchin, and the critically endangered yellow-tailed woolly monkey, as well as other mammals such as the spectacled bear, taruca, guanaco, kinkajou, and the mountain tapir. This area is home to several endangered and endemic birds, including the white-necked parakeet, coppery-chested jacamar, and bicoloured antvireo. There are also many amphibians, such as the frog species Eleutherodactylus cajamarcensis and Eleutherodactylus lymani.
Many studies identify a region of limited diversity but high endemism along the northern Pacific coast of Peru. For example, a study in 1978 of South American bats (Chiroptera) shows that 37% of the species on the western slope are endemic to the region.
These moist montane forests are naturally isolated and have also been fragmented by the clearing away of forests to make way for agriculture and pasture. As access is relatively easy, in recent years these forests have been increasingly threatened by the removal of valuable commercial species such as Podocarpus spp. (evergreen tree species of pine). Conceivably 75% of the coverage of original wet forest has been removed and replaced by agricultural systems or secondary thickets.
Current human impacts are concentrated in two areas: along the routes connecting the highlands with the Amazon and in areas below 2,000 m that have been cleared by settlers to obtain income and practice subsistence agriculture, producing food for their families and not necessarily for profit. The human-caused fragmentation of continuous forests has reduced the original forest cover by 30 to 40%.
The priority conservation actions for the next decade will be to: 1) develop environmental and conservation education programs and curriculum for locals to integrate natural resource management with their agricultural practices; 2) invest in restoration efforts for lost forest habitats; and 3) create strict-use protected areas.
1. Salcedo, J. 2018. Eastern South America: Ecuador into Colombia and Peru https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0121. Accessed July 9, 2018
2. Young, K. 1992. Biogeography of the Montane Forests Zone of the Eastern Slopes of Peru. Memorias del Museo de Historia Natural, 21. Biogeografía, Ecología y Conservación del bosque Montano en el Perú. Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, p.119-141.
3. Koopman,K. 1978. Zoogeography of Peruvian Bats with special emphasis on the role of the Andes. American Museum Novitates #2651,p.1-33, June 16, 1978.