Deep in the Andean cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia, thousands of furry, raccoon-like mammals have managed to evade researchers for all of modern history.

That is, until now.

In August 2013, Kristofer Helgen–curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History–announced the discovery of a distinct species known as the olinguito. Despite the fact that multiple museums have had evidence of these mammals hidden away for decades, the scientific community was unable to differentiate this unique species from other olingos until now. Previously, little was known about olingo diversity, but with the discovery of the olinguito, researchers are beginning to re-examine museum collections in order to thoroughly catalogue evidence of unique olingo species.

The discovery of the olinguito is just the beginning for researchers such as Helgen, as the species will now be continuously monitored in order to assess their conservation status. Many Andean cloud forests have been cleared in recent years, and although the olinguito is not currently at risk, “an analysis of suitable habitats suggests that an estimated 42 percent of the animal’s potential range has been deforested.” In order to protect the olinguito, these rates of deforestation cannot continue. Cloud forests are areas of high biological diversity that need to be protected, but keeping these areas from being cleared is difficult and expensive. Help us—the Amazon Aid Foundation—keep the Amazon pristine by checking out Acre Care. Adopt an acre, and protect the Amazon one tree at a time.

To learn more about the olinguito and Andean cloud forests, visit: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/For-the-First-Time-in-35-Years-A-New-Carnivorous-Mammal-Species-is-Discovered-in-the-Western-Hemisphere–219762981.html#New-Mammal-Olinguito-1.png