Rediscovery of blind mole after nearly 100 years in South Africa

Photo: (C) JP Le Roux

Wildlife experts feared that a blind golden mole had gone extinct 87 years ago. It has recently been rediscovered again in sand dunes in the Northern Cape in South Africa. 

A team of conservationists and geneticists from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the University of Pretoria have been searching for this mole for the last two years using DNA samples, like skin cells, hair, feces and a sniffer dog. They finally located the De Winton's golden mole in sand dunes in the northwest of the country. The species was last sighted in 1936. 

These moles are very difficult to spot because their coat looks like the sand and they are the size of a mouse. They also live in inaccessible burrows and hardly ever leave tunnels behind them. They are known to have very sensitive hearing, which can detect movement above ground.

In 2021, the team surveyed around 18km of the mole's dune habitat every day. They collected over 100 soil samples around the area where activity of the golden mole was detected. This showed that several golden mole species were present in the area.

Pinpointing whether the De Winton's golden mole was one of these species was challenging. Other mole species are common and can be identified easily, but the De Winton's golden mole is much harder and the team needed more DNA proof.  

After nearly a year of waiting a second gene sequence for the species was made publicly available from a specimen in the Cape Town museum. It was a clear match. The discovery was published in the Biodiversity and Conservation journal. They noted that even though the species seems to be widespread along the west coast, it is less abundant and under threat because of habitat loss due to diamond mining in the area. 

Photo: (C) JP Le Roux


Author: Sylvia Jacobs

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