First Successful Recordings of the Rare Vangunu Giant Rat

vangugu giant rat

The discovery of a new mammal species is a rare occurrence. The excitement within academic circles was significant when, in 2017, a new species from the genus of mosaic-tailed giant rats was discovered on Vangunu Island in the West Pacific, marking the first such discovery in 80 years. Named Uromys vika, this species measures almost half a meter in length and weighs approximately one kilogram.

Despite its substantial size, this rodent, primarily arboreal and equipped with powerful teeth capable of cracking coconuts, evaded scientific analysis for an extended period of time. It was not until 2017 that a DNA analysis confirmed the presence of an unknown giant rat species on Vangunu. However, researchers were unable to capture a photograph of the elusive rodent at that time.

Diminishing Habitat

The team was able to capture a total of 95 images of four individual giant rats. By: Dr. Tyrone Lavery
The team was able to capture a total of 95 images of four individual giant rats. By: Dr. Tyrone Lavery.

A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne, the Solomon Islands National University, and Vangunu residents achieved this feat recently. They deployed camera traps in a densely forested area of the island’s lowland rainforest and were fortunate. A total of four individuals of this nocturnal species, which sustains itself on fruits, flowers, and nuts, were successfully photographed. The key to this success was a special treat: sesame oil. The initial attempt with peanut butter attracted visitors, but not the desired ones.

The first-ever capture of the Vangunu giant rat is very positive news for this scarcely known species,” expressed Tyrone Lavery from the University of Melbourne, reporting the sighting in the journal Ecology and Evolution with his team. These animals are critically endangered, with researchers estimating a population of merely a hundred individuals. Their situation is becoming increasingly dire. “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.

Genus Under Threat

The rampant deforestation of the rainforest has already led to the disappearance of significant portions of the habitat for this species and many others on Vangunu. Last year, the Solomon Islands government issued further permits for deforestation. “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,” warned Lavery.

Almost all close relatives of Uromys vika are also at high risk. A total of eleven species of mosaic-tailed giant rats have been identified, with their habitats spanning from New Guinea to the Australian state of Queensland and the two Solomon Islands, Vangunu and Guadalcanal. Three species are possibly extinct, and five others are classified as endangered.

Link: new species of giant rat (Muridae, Uromys) from Vangunu, Solomon Islands | Journal of Mammalogy | Oxford Academic (oup.com)