Giant Golden Mole
(Chrysospalax trevelyani)
Linnaeus first documented the existence of golden moles (family Chrysochloridae) nearly 250 years ago, yet current knowledge of these blind, subterranean small mammals is still limited, and based largely on a few more common and widespread species.  At 23 cm in length, the giant golden mole is the largest of the golden mole species. It lives in chambers and passages in mounds reached by a system of tunnels made in part by the golden moles and in part by blesmols (Cryptomys) or mole rats (Bathyergus). Like other golden moles, it possesses a number of adaptations to its subterranean lifestyle, including powerful fore-limbs, a wedge-shaped head and a leather pad on its nose to protect the nostrils as it pushes through the soil.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Comprehensive density estimates are needed. Populations occurring outside of reserves need to be protected.
South Africa.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Afrosoricida
Family: Chrysochloridae
Golden moles are not related to the moles, from which they gain their common name, but rather to a group of African mammals, known as the Afrotheria. This ancient radiation of African mammals includes seven groups of animals thought to have shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago. These animals have little superficial resemblance to each other. The elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes; the aardvark and sengis (or elephant-shrews) all belong to the Afrotheria, along with the tenrecs, to whom golden-moles are most closely related.

Divergence between golden-moles and tenrecs probably occurred about 50 million years ago, with the result that the two groups are now morphologically very distinct.
head and body length: 230 mm
Weight: 538 g
The hair of the giant golden mole is longer and coarser than that of the smaller species of golden mole. Its upperparts are a dark glossy brown; underparts are paler. The hair is thick with dense, woolly underfur. Like other golden moles, this species is well-adapted to its subterranean lifestyle. It has large claws on its short, powerful fore limbs, no external tail or ears, and skin covering the eyes. The head is wedge-shaped and the pink, tapered nose has a leather pad on it to protect the nostrils as the mole pushes through the soil. They have five digits on their rear feet which are webbed to shove the soil behind them as they dig.
This species lives in chambers and passages in mounds reached by a system of tunnels made in part by the golden moles and in part by blesmols (Cryptomys) or mole rats (Bathyergus). It emerges at night to forage or move across the surface to another tunnel, and occasionally enters non-forested areas. It feeds on giant worms and other invertebrates including oniscomorph millipedes which abound in leaf litter. Small vertebrates may also be eaten. Golden moles are generally solitary, and it is likely that giant golden mole is also solitary. However, it is the only species that has shown any degree of social behavior, with several individuals being found together in the same burrow in midwinter, suggesting the possibility of social hibernation. Typically, adults are territorial and fight viciously if confined together.
Giant golden moles appear to be restricted to large patches of coastal and Afromontane forests and adjacent grasslands. They have very specific habitat requirements, occurring in areas with soft soils, well-developed undergrowth, and deep leaf-litter layers. They do not occur in areas with steep slopes and rocky terrain, and are absent from commercial forestry plantations, which have replaced many indigenous forest patches.
Endemic to South Africa. The species has a very patchy and limited distribution as it occurs only in the relict areas of indigenous Afromontane forest in the Eastern Cape, from East London northwards along coast to Port St Johns, and inland to Amathole and Kologha Mountains near King Williams Town and Stutterheim. Although recorded from 17 localities, this species is now possibly locally extinct at many sites, and appears to survive only in larger patches of indigenous Afromontane forest.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Classified as Endangered (E B2ab(i,ii,iii,iv)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Populations are threatened by the degradation and fragmentation of their forest habitat. Degradation occurs as a result of firewood collection, bark stripping, cutting for construction and overgrazing of livestock. Fragmentation is caused by clearance of forest for the construction of new homes and coastal tourist resorts. Commercial forestry plantations have replaced many of the remaining patches of natural habitat and even in some state-owned forests cattle are allowed to range freely, where their trampling degrades the habitat of this species. Golden moles are also preyed upon by domestic dogs. As a result of these threats the species may now be locally extinct in many places where it occurred formerly.
Conservation Underway
The species may possibly be present within a few small nature reserves. However, there is no targeted conservation action underway.
Conservation Proposed
Field surveys are needed to establish the conservation status and threats faced by populations at the 17 localities this species is known to have occurred in the past.
Bronner, G. 2008. Chrysospalax trevelyani. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 September 2010.

IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group (September, 2010)

Macdonald, D.W. 2006. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nicoll, M. E. and Rathbun, G. B. 1990. African Insectivora and elephant-shrews: An action plan for their conservation. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree-Shrew and Elephant-Shrew Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

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