WASHINGTON — Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it’s hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.
Researchers announced today a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.
The raccoon-sized critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.
But the adorable olinguito shouldn’t have been too hard to find. One of them lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in the Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.
“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.
The zoo’s little critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo from 1967 to 1976: Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.
“It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn’t the right species.”