We decided to focus on this mysterious species this week because for this beautiful bushy-tailed ‘cloud-runner’ rat (Crateromys australis) was recorded the first time in forty years by a Czech couple in january 2012. They obtained photographs and video footage of the bushy-tailed rat in the wild, climbing the vegetation in the last area of virgin rainforest on the Philippine island of Dinagat.
Until now the rat this was only known to exist from a single specimen or ‘holotype’, taken from a road near a logging site on the island in 1975. It belongs to the genus Crateromys, which contains four species of ‘cloud-runner’ rats that are all endemic to the Philippines. The bushy-tailed cloud rat appears to be the most ancient, based on a number of physical characters that set it apart from the others, such as its teeth and features of its skull.
The Dinagat bushy-tailed cloud rat has a large body, orange fur and a uniquely tri-coloured tail. The upper part of the tail is the same colour as the body, the middle section is black and the rest of the tail has longer, white hairs which form a soft tuft. Little is known about the cloud rat’s habitat preference, but it was seen most recently at night and in the trees of a primary forest, which suggests it might need such undisturbed forest to survive in the region. It is not yet known whether the bushy-tailed cloud rat is able to persist in forest that has re-grown after disturbance, for example logging or a fire.
In the last decade, several teams of biologists have visited Dinagat but the species was not recorded. The Dinagat bushy-tailed cloud rat may also be present on the nearby Siargao and Bucas Grande Islands, where the Dinagat gymnure is now known to occur. Local people on Siargao have reported seeing an tree-dwelling rat resembling the species but this still needs to be confirmed.
It is listed as Critically Endangered on the 2011 IUCN Red List, and is probably so low in numbers because Dinagat Island has been increasingly used for chromite mining. Chromite is extracted as an ore to be used in the manufacture of stainless steel and other alloy metals. Deforestation is unsurprisingly another major threat. Targeted action is urgently needed on Dinagat (as well as the surrounding islands) especially now that we know the bushy-tailed cloud rat is not yet extinct.