The golden mole, believed to be extinct for 80 years, has been rediscovered in South Africa. It was previously thought to no longer exist.

Scientists in South Africa have announced the rediscovery of a mole species with a shimmering golden fur and a unique ability to navigate through sand dunes. The species had not been observed for over 80 years and was previously believed to be extinct.

Researchers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the University of Pretoria recently discovered that the De Winton’s golden mole, a tiny subterranean creature with exceptional hearing abilities and a diet of insects, is still thriving on a beach in Port Nolloth on the western coast of South Africa.

According to the researchers, it had remained unknown to science since 1936.

Using a sniffer dog, the team located evidence of tunnels and came across a golden mole in 2021. However, due to the existence of 21 different species of golden moles that appear similar, the team required additional evidence to confirm that it was a De Winton’s mole.

The researchers collected samples of environmental DNA, which includes DNA from animals in the form of skin cells, hair, and bodily secretions. However, they had to wait until 2022 for a De Winton’s DNA sample from many years ago to be provided by a museum in South Africa for comparison. The DNA sequences were found to be identical.

Last week, the team’s research and findings underwent a peer review and were subsequently published.

“Our expectations were high, but unfortunately a few individuals shattered them,” stated Samantha Mynhardt, one of the researchers, in an interview with The Associated Press. “An expert from De Winton informed us that we would not be able to locate that mole as it is now extinct.”

The researchers spent three years on their initial journey to the western coast of South Africa to begin their hunt for the elusive mole. Known for its elusive nature and tendency to “swim” beneath sand dunes, the mole rarely leaves visible evidence of its tunnels. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, golden moles are typically found in the Port Nolloth region, with the De Winton’s species being particularly rare.

According to Mynhardt, two De Winton’s golden moles have been positively identified and captured on film in Port Nolloth. The research group has also discovered indications of additional populations in the region since 2021.

Esther Matthew, a senior field officer at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, described the project as highly stimulating and filled with obstacles. She expressed gratitude for the exceptional team, who brought enthusiasm and creative solutions to the task of surveying up to 18 kilometers (11 miles) of dune habitat in a single day.

The golden mole of De Winton was included in a list of “most wanted lost species” created by the conservation group Re:wild.

Some of the other entries on the list that have been newly found include a species of salamander discovered in Guatemala in 2017, 42 years after its last known appearance, and a type of elephant shrew known as the Somali sengi, spotted in Djibouti in 2019, marking its first documented sighting since 1968.


AP Africa news: