Researchers have used camera traps to photograph one of the rarest and least studied animal species in the world for the first time on a remote island in the South Pacific. The Vangunu giant rat (Uromys vika), named after the Solomon Islands of the same name, was not even known to science until a few years ago.
The only animal documented so far was discovered dead next to a felled tree in 2015. It was the first new rodent species discovered in the Solomon Islands, east of New Guinea, in more than 80 years. However, the first images of the rats in their natural habitat could also be the last.
Because of the deforestation of their habitat in the tropical forests of Vangunus, the rodents are facing extinction, according to a study published in the journal "Ecology and Evolution". The fact that they fell into camera traps is thanks to the locals: the people of Vangunu - unlike science - have deep traditional knowledge about giant rats, wrote the researchers led by Tyrone H. Lavery from the University of Melbourne.
“Using camera traps and guided by this knowledge, we aimed to capture images of Uromys vika in the last large block of Vangunu primary forest,” it said. The animals were attracted by bait containing sesame oil. A total of 95 images of four different specimens were created. "The rodents were irrefutably identified as Uromys vika due to their large body size, long tails and very short ears."
Government releases area for logging
According to the study, the forests near the town of Zaira represent the last suitable habitat for the species: they build their nests in ferns that grow on lowland trees. Not much more is known about their way of life, but the Vangunu rats are said to be so strong that they can even crack coconuts.
“The recent approval for deforestation around Zaira will lead to their extinction,” the researchers are convinced. They hope their spectacular photos will help draw attention to the rare rodents and the protection of their habitat.
“The results presented here come at a critical time for the future of Zaira’s forests,” Lavery wrote. Residents have struggled for 16 years to protect their tribal lands from commercial exploitation. Nevertheless, the government of the Solomon Islands opened the area for logging in November 2022.