Friday, December 14, 2007

Bizarre rodent with ears bigger than its head is caught on camera for first time

For earlier this week, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) - which runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park - released the first known video footage of the weird and wonderful creature jumping about in the Gobi desert, blissfully unaware of its rather arresting appearance.

"The footage and images really are extraordinary, incredibly charming - cute and comic in equal measure," says Dr Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL head of field conservation who led the exhibition to track down and assess this most elusive species in the Gobi.

"But there's more to the long-eared jerboa than that. It represents millions of years of evolutionary history. While it looks like a small rodent, it is very distinct. There's no other animal of its type."

Sadly, it's also an animal that may soon be limited to textbooks and folklore. For while the tiny silky-haired rodent described as the Mickey Mouse of the desert has only just made its debut on the global stage, it may shortly be heading the way of the Dodo.

Thanks to climate change, pollution, illegal mining and (rather surprisingly, since it lives in the middle of a desert) the domestic cat, its numbers are in free-fall.

Though its habitat is so remote no one knows exactly how many exist, experts estimate the population has dropped by more than 80 per cent over the past decade, and it is on the official list of the 100 most endangered creatures on the planet.


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