First ever images captured of rare giant coconut-cracking rat
The Critically Endangered Uromys vika giant rat (U. vika) – one of the world’s rarest rodents – has been captured by camera trap images for the first time by researchers from the University of Melbourne, Solomon Islands National University, and Zaira Village, Vangunu.
First described in 2017 and known only through a single physical specimen, or holotype, the species is known to inhabit just one island – Vangunu in Solomon Islands – and is listed as Critically Endangered due to logging of its primary lowland forest habitat.
The rare giant rat is at least twice the size of a common rat, is tree-dwelling and reportedly can chew through coconuts with its teeth.
Lead author, Dr Tyrone Lavery from the School of Biosciences at the University of Melbourne, said the Vangunu giant rat was the first new species of rodent described from Solomon Islands in over 80 years.
“Capturing images of the Vangunu giant rat for the first time is extremely positive news for this poorly known species,” Dr Lavery said.
“This comes at a critical juncture for the future of Vangunu’s last forests – which the community of Zaira have been fighting to protect from logging for 16 years.
“The images show the Vangunu giant rat lives in Zaira’s primary forests, and these lands (particularly the Dokoso tribal area) represent the last remaining habitat for the species. Logging consent has been granted at Zaira, and if it proceeds it will undoubtably lead to extinction of the Vangunu giant rat.”
Dr Lavery said deep traditional ecological knowledge of the U. vika is held by Vangunu’s people, and drawing on this was a vital part of the project’s success.
“For decades anthropologists and mammalogists alike were aware of this knowledge, but periodic efforts to scientifically identify and document this species were fruitless,” Dr Lavery said.
Senior author Mr Kevin Sese from the Solomon Islands National University said field work was guided by the Vangunu people’s knowledge of U. vika, and using camera traps the authors were able to capture 95 images of what was determined to be four different individuals in their forest habitat.
Mr Sese said the community at Zaira were adamant the species lived in their forests. However, the presence of U. vika had never been scientifically documented there. Confirming its persistence was considered a vital part of conservation efforts for Vangunu.
“We thank the community of Zaira for unwavering commitment to conserve their forests and reefs in the face of continuous attempts to undermine this commitment, and for their support of this research,” Dr Lavery said.
“We hope that these images of U. vika will support efforts to prevent the extinction of this threatened species, and help improve its conservation status.”