Kate Desvenain managed a variety of successful tours as a Smithsonian Journeys Program Manager before following her dreams to Costa Rica. There, she and her husband are building a bed and breakfast from the ground up while getting used to life in the jungle. Here, she interviews renowned mammalogist Kris Helgen about his background and his upcoming gorilla trekking adventure to Uganda and Rwanda .
Kate Desvenain: Kris, you are known for discovering new species of mammals worldwide. Can you tell us about your most exciting discovery, and how you decided what to name it?
Kris Helgen: Though I go looking for mammals in some of the most remote corners of the globe, sometimes the most startling finds are right under our noses. Three years ago I “discovered” a fantastic new species of bat from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands—not out in the rain forest, but in museum cabinets at the Smithsonian. It’s a giant black bat with a monkey-like face, red eyes, a meter-wide wingspan, and larger teeth than any other bat in the world. Before you succumb to nightmares, I should tell you that it uses its big teeth to crack open nuts and big tropical fruits!
In addition to those found at the Smithsonian, I also found specimens of this species in museums in Sydney, Chicago, and Honolulu. The specimen in Chicago had been in the museum since 1929, the Sydney specimens since the 1930s, and the Smithsonian’s series dated to the Second World War when American troops were stationed in the South Pacific. You might think that such an conspicuous bat could not go overlooked in museums for so long, but there you have it. I named the species Pteralopex flanneryi after my doctoral advisor, Australian scientist and author Tim Flannery, to thank him for many years of scientific mentorship. Its common name is the “Greater Monkey-Faced Bat”. The species survives in the wild today, but only just—it is a highly endangered species that lives only in undisturbed lowland rain forest, is sensitive to hunting, and is extinct in most areas on the four islands on which it occurs. (more…)