South African researchers have rediscovered the De Winton’s golden mole, a species that’s known for their golden coat and their ability to navigate through sand dunes using super-hearing abilities.
The small, blind burrower was found on the west coast of South Africa in Port Nolloth, by a team of researchers from the University of Pretoria and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. It was last seen nearly nine decades ago, in 1936.
With the help of a sniffer canine, the group was able to find tunnels in the sand dunes, where they discovered the mole in 2021. However, they needed to determine that it was a De Winton’s as there are over 20 species of golden moles, many of which have similar characteristics.
To do that, they took DNA samples from the environment – bodily excretions, hair, and skin cells in the area.
But they had to wait until 2022, until a confirmed sample from decades ago was released by a South African museum, to begin their analysis. The DNA samples were a match.
The team published their findings and research, which were peer-reviewed, last week.
Samantha Mynhardt, one of the scientists involved, said “[they] had high hopes, but that [their] hope was also crushed” after an expert on the De Winton’s golden mole told them they would not find the animal as they were extinct.
The entire process took over three years, from their initial trip to South Africa to begin looking for the animal, which was known for staying inside their tunnels and sand tunes. Their small size also makes them difficult to see, especially since their color is similar to that of the sand
The species is native to the sub-Saharan Africa area and has only been spotted in Port Nolloth.
According to Mynhardt, two of these moles have since been photographed in the area. Their team has also found evidence that there are other groups in the area.
Esther Matthew, who works for the Endangered Wildlife Trust, described it as ‘a very exciting project with numerous challenges.’ She credits their ‘fantastic team’, which surveyed up to 11 miles of dune habitat every day, for the discovery.
For many years, the De Winton’s has been on the ‘most wanted lost species list.’ Other species on the list that have since been re-spotted include an elephant shrew that was last seen in 1968 and a salamander that hasn’t been seen in over 40 years.
The team believes this could bring hope for future missions, for other lost species.