Mickey Mouse of the Desert

There aren’t many firsts in this world any more, no first man, no first foot. But how about first filmed.

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This month scientists have filmed for, what is thought to be, the first time a teeny tiny mammal known as the long-eared jerboa.

This little night time cuddly was filmed in the Gobi desert by Dr Jonathan Baillie from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The mysterious creatures are usually found in deserts in Mongolia and China. Currently classified as endangered, it is hoped the film will help scientists understand a bit more about this creature and its lifestyle.

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Understandably, Dr Baillie was very excited to have tracked the jerboas down. Due to their small size and nocturnal nature they are extremely difficult to find.

Very similar to the Australian kangaroo the jerboa hop to get around, they also have hairs on their feet, which have been liken to snowshoes, to enable them to jump along the sand. They also have the biggest ear-to-body ratio for any mammal.

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Study of the jerboas up till now has revealed that they spend daylight hours in underground tunnels beneath the sand, and that their diet was mostly made up of insects. By setting pitfall traps, the researchers were also able to look at the rodents close-up and to begin to estimate their population.

Dr Baillie has said;

“The long-eared jerboa is a bit like the Mickey Mouse of the desert, cute and comic in equal measure.”

As with all discoveries there is a more serious side to the research, because very little is known about the jerboa it is difficult to ascertain why they are endangered. Dr Baillie believes that the jerboa are under threat from habitat disturbance, and is keen not only to study these mammals, but to find a way to protect their future.

The expedition which led to the filming of the jerboa was part of the ZSL’s Edge programme. Its focus is on conservation plans for animals that are both endangered and evolutionarily distinctive. The long-eared jerboa is one of 10 species that the programme is looking at this year.

Dr Baillie remarked that it was important not to overlook desert habitats in conservation,

“Everyone thinks the desert is a totally desolate area, void of biodiversity, and often when conservation planning is done, deserts are overlooked. But there are some remarkable species in the desert, so we really need to start paying attention to this environment.”

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