Review of The Search for Olinguito, by Sandra Markle

The Search for Olinguito

Discovering a New Species

by Sandra Markle

Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2017. 40 pages.

The Search for Olinguito is a fascinating story, telling about how scientist Kristofer Helgen suspected and then confirmed that there was a new species in the raccoon family.

Kristofer was studying another mammal, the olingo. He worked for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. In 2002, he was looking at samples of pelts and skulls from olingos in different regions – and found one completely different from the others.

This animal had a different shade of fur, a different skull shape, and larger, pointier teeth. He went looking in other museums and found five similar samples.

The next step was to check the DNA – yes this new animal had different DNA, and the samples found were similar. He named the new animal “olinguito.”

But then the question arose: Do olinguitos still exist? Could researchers find them in the wild?

The search led first to a zoo. In the 1960s, the Louisville Zoo had tried to start a breeding program with olingos. But the female olingo, Ringerl, that they brought in would never choose a mate. They sent this supposed olingo to various zoos, but she never did produce any babies. Kristofer checked her DNA from a sample in the National Institutes of Health database, and she was indeed an olinguito.

So – they decided to search in the habitat where Ringerl was originally found, the cloud forest. That put them on track to finally discover olinguitos in the wild.

Naturally, the locals knew about these creatures and called them “night monkeys.”

When they tried to publish a paper about the new species in a journal in 2006, they were told they still needed more information about its physical traits and behavior. So from 2006 to 2011, scientists gathered more data.

A report was finally published in the journal ZooKeys on August 15, 2013. That day Kristofer also officially announced the olinguito to the world at a press conference.

This book is illustrated with photographs and a few maps. The text is simple enough for upper elementary age kids to understand easily. There are some questions posed in the back matter with the heading “Be a Science Detective!” One of the questions is, “After reading this story, why do you think even the people living near the cloud forest didn’t know much about the olinguito’s life?”

I like the way this shows a true and recent story of a scientist at work. There are cute animal pictures, too!

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