A rat the size of a domestic cat would scare most domestic cats, not to mention most humans. That’s a good description of the chinchilla rat, a Peruvian monster rodent thought to be extinct. Not any more. A team of researchers in Peru found a live chinchilla rat living near Machu Picchu, the famous Inca site in Peru.
The Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) was first discovered in 1912 by Hiram Bingham, who found two skulls of the giant rats in 400-year-old Inca pottery. It was believed at the time that the chinchilla rat had gone extinct before that. That held true until 2009 when park ranger Roberto Quispe reportedly found one near Machu Picchu but released it.
Based on that report, a team of scientists from the Museum de Arequipa in Peru and the Instituto de Ecología of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México went giant rat hunting near Wiñayhuayna, another site on the Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu.
The team announced their discovery of a living chinchilla rat in a recent press release. Were they excited? This is what Horacio Zeballos, the curator of the Department of Mammalogy at the Museum de Arequipa, had to say:
In Conservation Biology this type of rediscoveries is called the Lazarus effect.
It’s a good news/bad news discovery. The bad news is, the Chinchilla rat is no longer extinct but it’s definitely endangered as its natural forest habitat is being destroyed by farming and the cattle industry. The good news is, the giant rodent is found in both Machu Picchu national park and Machu Picchu itself, both of which are well-managed and protected by the Peruvian government.
Here’s more good news: the team also discovered a new mammal, a new lizard and four new species of frogs.
Let’s hope none of them are on the diet of giant chinchilla rats