What else is out there?
Humanity was introduced this week to the olinguito - the first new species of mammal in decades to be identified in the Americas. News of the discovery of a whole new species weaves a bright thread of encouragement into the dense fabric of reports of a planet in peril. Species are going extinct at an alarming rate, but here's an animal no one knew about, and an adorable one at that. There are still enough wild spaces in the world to contain surprises.
The olinguito looks like an olingo, except it's not as large and has thicker fur, a different tooth pattern and smaller ears - cuter, in other words. It's about 14 inches long and weighs 2 pounds, which makes it the smallest member of the raccoon family. It lives in the Andean cloud forest and is mostly active in the treetops at night. The olinguito bears some resemblance to a koala. Or a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. Every kid in the country will want one for Christmas.
No one knows exactly how many species exist on Earth. But the picture of mammalia class is fairly complete, or so it's believed. Some new species of shrew might turn up from time to time, but the bigger mammals, especially those in the carnivora order, have been pretty well cataloged. Then along comes olinguito.
Here's hoping there are other such animals, unseen or unrecognized, living in the forests or the deserts, making sure that some portion of the natural world remains a mystery.