Scientists discover two cat-size squirrel species living in the Himalayas

Researchers from Australia have discovered two new species of the woolly flying squirrel, one of the world’s rarest mammals, in the Himalayan mountains.

Scientists have known about the woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) for a long time, which, at five pounds and three feet long, is one of the world’s largest squirrels. However, for much of the 20th century, the cat-size rodent was thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered in 1994 in northern Pakistan.

More recently though, after taking a closer look at museum specimens and collecting data from sightings of Eupetaurus, Australian scientist Kristofer Helgen discovered that the woolly flying squirrel is actually two distinct species that live thousands of miles apart: the Tibetan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus tibetensis) and the Yunnan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus nivamons).

The former lives in the Himalayan region that intersects India, Bhutan, and Tibet, whereas the latter dwells thousands of miles to the east, in the Yunnan Province of southwestern China, according to the study published recently in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

“This discovery is so exciting,” says John Koprowski, a squirrel expert at the University of Wyoming who was not involved with the research. “That there were two relatively large animals that had gone unreported shows how little we know about the natural world.”

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