A long-lost golden mole has been rediscovered in South Africa after 86 years

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Golden mole
De Winton’s golden mole is in grave danger.
Rory Morrow Rory Morrow Weathered United Kingdom 4 minutes

A rare species of mole that eluded scientists for so long that they feared its extinction has been spotted in the wild again after 86 years.

Endemic to the desert region of northwestern South Africa, De Winton’s golden mole (Cryptochloris wintoni) was last seen in 1937 and was listed as a Most Wanted Lost Species by Re:wild in 2017.

But after months of research, a team of researchers—along with a border collie that identified the odor— discovered evidence of two individual moles in the dunes of a beach near the town of Port Nolloth.

Praise the perseverance of the team, Christina Biggs, species specialist Re: wild who was not involved in the study, said: “They have left no stone unturned and it is now possible to protect the areas where these rare and endangered moles live.”

I’m playing hide and seek

Despite their name, golden moles are not true moles, but they are more closely related to shrews and sloths. The “golden” part of their name comes from the oils secreted by their skin, which essentially lubricate their fur and allow them to “swim” through the sand.

There are 21 species of golden mole found only in sub-Saharan Africa, but mainly concentrated in South Africa.

Notoriously shy, golden moles lead a very underground lifestyle and rarely venture to the surface. Consequently they are completely blind and must rely on their keen sense of hearing to find their prey, which is mostly insects.

Beach in the desert
The moles were found in an area of ​​desert sand dunes near the coast of South Africa.

It is this mysterious behavior that makes them so difficult to observe. In fact, the research team involved in the discovery did not see any of the golden moles De Winton in the question. However, they found physical evidence of their existence, which they confirmed using DNA environment.

Samples of this DNA, derived from skin, hair and excrement, were collected from the ground near the mole burrows that Jessie smelled, a border collie specially trained to track golden moles.

More than 100 of these samples were collected, with painstaking work that at times led the team to crossbreed 18 kilometers of dune biotope in a single day.

A cautious hope

Although only two moles have been confirmed, scientists have found traces of four more and believe the species may have a healthy population in the area. They may also occur over a much larger area than previously thought, although this does not mean that the species is abundant.

Golden moles from De Winton they remain a critically endangered species with ongoing threats from mining and residential development surrounding their sandy habitats.

For this reason, although the rediscovery of this species has cheered conservationists, they argue the need for a targeted effort to preserve moles in the long term.



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