When loggers felled a large tree on the island of Vangunu, local stories of a giant rat species were confirmed as true. A rat measuring over 45cm long dropped with the tree, dying from the fall. Soon identified as a Uromys vika, the rat is the first new species discovered in the Solomon Islands for more than 80 years.
Roughly four times the size of the average city rat, the vika lives on coconuts, ngali nuts and canarium nuts. Close examination of the rat found it to be a natural tree-climber, with large padded feet, curved claws and a hairless, scaly tail for traction.
Mammalogy expert of the Solomon Islands Tim Flannery explained the importance of the discovery. “It’s a remarkable new discovery of a mosaic tailed rat that found its way from either Australia or New Guinea several million years ago,” he told The Guardian. “It’s one of the most astonishing discoveries made in the new millennium.”
Tyrone Lavery, a mammalogist from the Field Museum in Chicago, said the findings came just in time. Much longer and the vika would likely have dwindled to extinction due to logging. “It’s important to know they exist so that we can work out ways of conserving them,” he said. “It looks like logging is a really big threat to the species. There is not much of Vangunu left that hasn’t been logged.”
Logging is a popular industry in the Solomon Islands, with approximately 90% of the region’s trees having been logged already. Lavery estimates that the vika’s habitat could be as small as 80km squared.
To protect the species, Lavery is planning a crowd-funding campaign which will provide money to build a ranger station focused on conservation.