NC State Scientist Among Team that Discovers New Species of Carnivore

Species is First Find of Its Kind in More Than Three Decades

Observed in the wild, tucked away in museum collections, and even exhibited in zoos, there is one mysterious creature that has been a victim of mistaken identity for more than 100 years.

Dr Roland Kays presents teh discovery

Dr Roland Kays shares the olinguito discovery in a press conference at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

A team of scientists – including Roland Kays of North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – uncovered overlooked museum specimens of this remarkable animal.Their investigation eventually took them on a journey from museum cabinets in Chicago to cloud forests in South America to genetics labs in Washington, D.C.

The result: the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) ―the first carnivore species to be discovered in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years.

The team’s discovery is published in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal ZooKeys.


The olinguito (oh-lin-GHEE-toe) looks like a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear. It is actually the latest scientifically documented member of the family Procyonidae, which it shares with raccoons, coatis, kinkajous and olingos. (Olinguito means “little olingo.”)

The 2-pound olinguito, with its large eyes and woolly orange-brown fur, is native to the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, as its scientific name, “neblina” (Spanish for “fog”), hints. In addition to being the latest described member of its family, another distinction the olinguito holds is that it is the newest species in the order Carnivora ―an incredibly rare discovery in the 21st century.

The olinguito is known so far to exisit only in cloud forest habitats in Colombia and Ecuador but future investigations might shoe that it occurs in similar habitiats in othe South American countries.“The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed,” said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and leader of the team reporting the new discovery. “If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”

Discovering a new species of carnivore, however, does not happen overnight. This one took a decade, and was not the project’s original goal ―completing the first comprehensive study of olingos, several species of tree-living carnivores in the genus Bassaricyon, was. Helgen’s team wanted to understand how many olingo species should be recognized and how these species are distributed ―issues that had long been unclear to scientists. Unexpectedly, the team’s close examination of more than 95 percent of the world’s olingo specimens in museums, along with new DNA testing and the review of historic field data, revealed existence of the olinguito, a  previously undescribed species.

The first clue came from the olinguito’s teeth and skull, which were smaller and differently shaped than those of olingos. Examining museum skins revealed that this new species was also smaller overall with a longer and denser coat; field records showed that it occurred in a unique area of the northern Andes Mountains at 5,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level―elevations much higher than the known species of olingo. This information, however, was coming from overlooked olinguito specimens collected in the early 20th century.

The question Helgen and his team wanted to answer next was: Does the olinguito still exist in the wild?

To answer that question, Helgen called on Roland Kays, director of the Biodiversity Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, to help organize a field expedition.

“The data from the old specimens gave us an idea of where to look, but it still seemed like a shot in the dark,” Kays said. “But these Andean forests are so amazing that even if we didn’t find the animal we were looking for, I knew our team would discover something cool along the way.”

The team had a lucky break that started with a camcorder video. With confirmation of the olinguito’s existence via a few seconds of grainy video shot by their colleague Miguel Pinto, a zoologist in Ecuador, Helgen and Kays set off on a three-week expedition to find the animal themselves. Working with Pinto, they found olinguitos in a forest on the western slopes of the Andes, and spent their days documenting what they could about the animal – its characteristics and its forest home. Because the olinguito was new to science, it was imperative for the scientists to record every aspect of the animal. They learned that the olinguito is mostly active at night, is mainly a fruit eater, rarely comes out of the trees and has one baby at a time.

In addition to body features and behavior, the team made special note of the olinguito’s cloud forest Andean habitat, which is under heavy pressure from human development.  Computerized mapping of museum records allowed the team to estimate that 42 percent of olinguito habitat likely has already been converted to agriculture or urban areas.

“The cloud forests of the Andes are a world unto themselves, filled with many species found nowhere else, many of them threatened or endangered,” Helgen said. “We hope that the olinguito can serve as an ambassador species for the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia, to bring the world’s attention to these critical habitats.”

While the olinguito is new to science, it is not a stranger to people. People have been living in or near the olinguito’s cloud forest world for thousands of years. And, while misidentified, specimens have been in museums for more than 100 years, and at least one olinguito from Colombia was exhibited in several zoos in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. There were even several occasions during the past century when the olinguito came close to being discovered but was not. In 1920, a zoologist in New York thought an olinguito museum specimen was so unusual that it might be a new species, but he never followed through in publishing the discovery.

Giving the olinguito its scientific name is just the beginning.

“This is the first step,” Helgen said. “Proving that a species exists and giving it a name is where everything starts. This is a beautiful animal, but we know so little about it. How many countries does it live in? What else can we learn about its behavior? What do we need to do to ensure its conservation?”

The team is already planning its next mission into the clouds.

Watch the Untamed Science Video about the Olinguito

See the Olinguito in this Untamed Science Video


Participate in the Live Bilingual Google Hangout – Friday 8/16/2013

Read New Carnivore in Cloud Forest in the NC State Abstract Research Blog
Media Contacts:
D’Lyn Ford   NC State Uuniversity

Emelia Cowans  NC Museum of Natural Sciences


Harcharik Forestry International Studies Endowment Established

David and Angelica Harcharik

David and Angelica Harcharik

The College of Natural Resources is honored to announce that David and Angelica Harcharik have named the NC State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc. in their estate plans.  When funded, the David and Angelica Harcharik Forestry International Studies Endowment in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources will encourage and entice students to go beyond their national borders in pursuit of scientific knowledge and the understanding of other cultures.

Dr. David Harcharik earned a Ph.D. in forest genetics from NC State in 1984 after earning his bachelor’s degree in forest management from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in forest ecology from Duke University.”  David Harcharik is a true role model for our students,” says Dr. Larry Nielsen. “His fundamental concern for narrowing the gap between rich and poor nations, and for achieving a sustainable world economy and environment, are the core values we work to instill in every student at NC State.” He was NC State’s College of Natural Resources 2002 Distinguished Alumnus.

David Harcharik, former Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United NationsHarcharik retired in 2007 as Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a position he held for ten years.  In this capacity, he assisted the Director-General with the overall leadership and management of this international organization dedicated to world food security and the sustainable management of natural resources.  Previously he served as Assistant Director-General and Head of the FAO Forestry Department and as a Forestry Officer with FAO.

Harcharik also held a number of positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, including Director of International Forestry and Associate Deputy Chief. Early in his career he was a Peace Corps Volunteer and Visiting Professor in the Department of Forest Sciences at Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. He also served our country in the US Army in Vietnam.

He and his wife, Angelica, met while studying Italian in Rome, where she was visiting from Argentina. They married in Rome and lived there for some 18 years. In Italy, Angelica developed a passion for cooking and went on to earn three degrees from professional chef schools in Rome and Paris. In addition to fine cooking with natural ingredients, especially based on Italian recipes, she enjoys travel and nature, and a keen love of animals.

This endowment will be used to support fellowships, research funding, study abroad, student recruiting and/or other related forestry international study purposes for graduate students enrolled in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources in the College of Natural Resources at NC State University.


Interdisciplinary Doctoral Seminar Addressed Global Concerns and Formed New Bonds

participants of Interdisciplinary Doctoral Seminar during fieldtrip to Outer Banks

Hiking up the beach on the Outer Banks as part of a visit to Oregon Inlet, where participants heard form engineers and geologists about the future of bridges and roads with sea-level rise and higher storm surges.

What do doctoral students studying psychology, meteorology, law, wildlife, engineering, economics, forestry and public health have in common?  A lot, it seems, based on the recent experience of 15 doctoral students—5 each from NC State, the University of Surrey in England and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil—who spent nine days together studying the topic of climate change.  They participated in the inaugural Interdisciplinary Doctoral Seminar sponsored by the University Global Partnership Network, of which NC State is a founding member.

The seminar was organized and led by Larry Nielsen and Sarah Slover of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources on behalf of the NC State’s Office of International Affairs.  “I have continued to work on these partnerships since returning to the faculty,” said Nielsen, former dean and provost, “and this has been the most rewarding experience so far.”

The goal of the interdisciplinary seminars is to bring breadth to the understanding of an important global topic that is being studied in depth by the doctoral students.  NC State was the ideal host for the first seminar on climate change.  Students and faculty from the

Seminar participants with Chancellor Woodson at The Point

Seminar participants enjoyed dinner with Chancellor Woodson at The Point.

three schools spent their first two days on our campus, studying the global context of climate change relating to food security, water resources and public health and the science of climate modeling—and enjoying a dinner with Chancellor Woodson at The Point.

They then traveled east for three days immersed in one of the nation’s regions most vulnerable to climate change—the Outer Banks.  Students met with faculty of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, scientists from the US Army Corps of Engineers and Nags Head town officials and residents to understand the meaning of climate change to local communities.  The seminar concluded in Washington, DC, where students held discussions with climate change experts from the U.S., U.K. and Brazilian governments, advocacy organizations, think-tanks and leading universities.  The final morning was an extended comprehensive discussion with Victoria Arroyo, Executive Director of the Georgetown University Center for Climate Resources.  “It was a unique opportunity for us to see how other regions and countries are working diligently to solve a world challenge,” commented Laurie Gharis, doctoral student in Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State.

University of Surrey student Laura Cowen explains her dissertation research.

University of Surrey student Laura Cowen explains her dissertation research.

“It was unlike any seminar I’ve ever participated in,” said Sarah Fritts, doctoral student in the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology program at NC State.  “Honestly, I did not feel like a student.  I was, of course, learning every step of the way, but I was treated as a professional.”  Students also appreciated the opportunity to learn about the topic in a much broader context than their disciplinary research allows.  One student participant stated, “My research is more oriented to policy and regulatory analysis for climate change, so I enjoyed having more technical discussions to broaden my understanding about the problem.”  Students in technical fields expressed the same view about learning more policy, sociology and economics regarding climate change.  Participants also especially liked the chance to get to the coast to see climate change impacts personally.

Ms. Rascoe hosts participants at her historic beach home

Seminar participants were guests at the historic beach home of Ms. Nancy Rascoe, long-time resident of Nags Head.

“This was an outstanding opportunity to meet and interact with a terrific collection of experts and informed officials from the local, state, national and international level,” reflected Brian Bulla, participant and Forestry and Environmental Resources doctoral student.  But the students’ favorite part of the seminar seemed to be meeting colleagues from other universities, disciplines and nations.  “The benefits I gained by participating will extend for some time through the professional and personal contacts I made during the program,” said Bulla.

“We may have been lucky this time,” said Nielsen, “but this great group of students formed an immediate bond—a bond I’m sure will continue through time. They’ve already started Facebook pages and other means to stay in touch.”

BBQ meal at the coast

Enjoying a traditional pork barbeque at the Outer Banks.


Seminar participants at Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria

Wildlife doctoral student Sarah Fritts plays a historical lute for her colleagues at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria.


Genetic Data Analysis Summer Course Draws Students From 11 Countries

Genetic Data Analysis Summer Course - Prague

Faculty and Students in the 2012 Genetic Data Analysis Summer Course In Prague

Fikret Isik, Associate Professor and Associate Director of  the Tree Improvement Program at North Carolina State University, was invited to teach a one week ‘Summer Course in Genetic Data Analysis – Applications for Plant and Animal Breeding’ by the Czech University of Life Sciences.

The summer course was organized by the Czech University of Life Sciences took place on June 11-15, 2012 in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Jim Holland, Professor of Crop Science and Research Geneticist (USDA) and Christian Maltecca, Animal geneticist with the Department of Animal Science at NCSU joined Dr. Isik to teach the summer course.

The course covered advanced quantitative genetics for analysis of genomic and phenotypic data for plant and animal breeding.  Twenty-five professionals, graduate students and faculty from 11 different countries attended the course.

For More Information, Contact:
Tilla Fearn, Communication Director, (919) 513-4644 or

Student’s Semester Abroad in Equatorial Guinea Changes Her Life

Over 6,000 miles east of North Carolina lies Bioko Island, an island rich in both culture and biodiversity and part of the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. Unknown by many, this island is part of Equatorial Guinea in West Africa, located approximately 20 miles off the coast of Cameroon. Dotted with deep crater lakes, cascading waterfalls, towering volcanic peaks, lush tropical forests, and expansive black sand beaches, Bioko Island harbors seven rare species of monkeys and four species of endangered sea turtles, along with unique insect and bird species, some still yet to be discovered. This biologically significant island provided the backdrop for Gretchen Stokes’ semester abroad during the spring of 2011.

Gretchen is a junior in the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology major at NC State University, and she says that she knew from the start of her college career that she would participate in Study Abroad, though she recalls, “I never dreamed it would take me halfway around the world to Africa!” Gretchen stumbled upon the program while gathering information for the Conservation Biology Concentration Task Force in her major. Organized through Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Biodiversity on Bioko Island study abroad program is a collaboration of Drexel University, the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial, and the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. It is a hybrid program that combines four to six weeks of field courses with six weeks at a small university and incorporates five courses totaling 15 credit hours, all transferable to NC State University.

Here is Gretchen’s fascinating account of her experience abroad:

My Semester in Equatorial Guinea
by Gretchen Stokes

My studies on Bioko Island began with a two-week expedition to the undisturbed Gran Caldera Scientific Reserve, a hollowed volcanic crater encompassing nearly one-third of the island, covered with dense rainforest and abundant wildlife. A team of scientists, students, volunteers, porters, and local guides trekked deep into the rainforest, hiking two days to reach base camp. Here, I conducted surveys on monkey populations and studied methods in field ecology using the most advanced scientific technology. I worked with the team to photograph and record vocalizations of the troops of monkeys we encountered in hopes to better convey the importance of their conservation.

The island’s monkey populations have been declining since the increase in hunting activities in the 1980s as well as increased accessibility to the forest from newly developed roads and increased demand for monkey meat in the market. The team of scientists is now examining exactly how these human interactions are affecting populations of monkeys over time. Currently, three of the seven species of monkey are listed as endangered and one, the Pennant’s red colobus monkey, is listed as critically endangered. By performing an annual census and recording population data, the goal is to work with the local government towards conservation regulations and hunting bans in the vulnerable forests.

While on the southern end of the island, I worked with Equatoguinean students on a sea turtle research team, surveying the beaches through the night and into the early morning. I witnessed nesting sea turtles as well as poaching camps and evidence of hunted sea turtles. The data I collected on the nests and tracks will play an important role in the ongoing study of the island’s turtles and the conservation of all four sea turtle species.

Following the conclusion of that expedition, I traveled to the small village of Moka, in the island’s highland forests, where I studied island biogeography in the context of species diversity and evolutionary development. Each student designed and conducted an independent research project and was advised by Dr. Tom Butynski, one of the most recognized primatologists in Africa. I chose to conduct independent research on the habitat preference and distribution of four species of galagos, which are small primates also known as bushbabies. My work was entirely during the evening hours in order to conform to the galago’s nocturnal nature. During my field time, I worked with local guides and Equatoguinean students, which allowed for an excellent opportunity to improve my conversational skills in Spanish as well as learn about the villagers’ views of these animals.

I recorded data on habitat preference in relation to elevation as well as opportunistic observations of unique galago behavior. I also experimented with behavioral changes to audio playback. Most notably I observed unique galago behavior and discovered a species of bird potentially new to the island. It is exciting because this research proved valuable not only to the island’s data collection but also to the greater world of science.

I returned to the capital city of Malabo, where I attended classes at the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial. These classes included Natural Resource Economics, Society and the Environment, and Advanced Spanish Language. My time in the city was an immersion in the Spanish language and the unique African culture. I feel that my abilities in the Spanish language are much improved, as I became conversational in the language and was able to communicate fluidly with the local people. Not only did I speak Spanish, but I also began to learn the languages of the indigenous Bubi and Fang ethnic groups. I studied the social and cultural implications of the two groups and how these impact the government and politics in Equatorial Guinea. I took salsa dancing lessons, attended cultural performances, went on field trips to nearby natural areas, and met with oil companies, including workers at Exxon Mobil and Marathon.

One of the most important aspects of my studies was learning about the oil industry on the island. Four oil companies prosper from offshore drilling and I had the opportunity to visit the oil company compounds, meet with oil workers, and explore the relationship between the government, oil companies, and local people. Because of the recent economic boom from oil production, the demand for bushmeat has also increased. Bushmeat includes any wild animals hunted from the forest, most commonly snakes, antelopes, monkeys, and other small mammals. Visiting the local bushmeat market was a sobering experience for me after seeing wildlife flourishing in the rainforest just weeks before.

I made it a priority to be involved in service activities while in Equatorial Guinea. Most notable was providing environmental education for elementary-aged children at a local school. My lessons, spoken completely in Spanish, strived to inform students about topics such as pollution, habitat destruction, and human impact on the environment. None of these kids have ever left the city, let alone the island. They do not know more than what they see in a few city blocks. They are not aware of the connection between humans and the environment nor do they know of the biodiversity found in their country.

Not only did I gain a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of the culture, but I also have a newfound appreciation for the profound impact that education can have. Education is vital, the foundation of how to create a positive change in the world. It can empower people and change the way they live. Through my service work, I have discovered my passion for education. I know now this is what I am called to do.

My study abroad experience was enriching, fulfilling and empowering, and it truly captured the essence of my field of study. From the tiniest butterfly to the beautifully majestic sea turtles, I witnessed nature’s incredible diversity, interconnectedness, and resilience. I witnessed our natural environment undisturbed, in its most raw form.

Following my studies in Equatorial Guinea, I decided I was not ready to leave Africa! I flew to East Africa to travel around Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. I ventured into northern Kenya’s vast hills dotted with giraffes, elephants, zebras and rhinos, and I toured one of Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee rescue centers, meeting with scientists from the Mpala Research Reserve. I continued west to hike Kenya’s tallest waterfall, Thompson’s Falls, and camped in a nearby village.

I then proceeded to Jinja, Uganda, where I whitewater rafted down the Nile River and bungee jumped 145 feet above it. I traveled with a local woman across Lake Victoria to a rural village, helping her with agriculture education, handing out seeds and instructing the villagers on how to raise their crops more sustainably with a greater yield. We also supplied Jinja’s children’s hospital with much needed medical supplies and food. I was overwhelmed as I walked through the crowded rooms of undernourished children.  I remember when we gave a child a mosquito net, his mother told us her husband had just died from malaria and her son was sick with malaria because they could not afford a net. I will never forget the small smile the boy mustered as we hung the net above him.

After leaving Uganda, I made my way to Tanzania for a six-day safari to parks including Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I watched lions wrestling in the golden grasses, thousands of wildebeest galloping across the savannah, a leopard sinking his teeth into his latest catch, and elephants trumpeting calls to one another. When you think of Africa, this is what you imagine. Each day brought something more breathtaking than the last, from the wildlife to the sunsets. I even participated in a ceremony with the indigenous Maasai people and indulged in a village’s traditional foods.

The last destination in the journey was to the Zanzibar archipelago. I spent a few nights in historic Stone Town and then at the secluded beaches on the Indian Ocean. This gave me time to reflect on my experiences in Africa and how to best apply these lessons learned upon returning to the United States. Traveling around Africa gave me a better perspective on how much there is to see in the world and it taught me how to make the most out of every day. From day to day choices, such as the food I eat and the music I listen to, to the long-term decisions I make, such as my plans after graduation, my life has been changed.

About Gretchen Stokes:

Gretchen Stokes, of Apex, NC, is a junior in the Fisheries, Wildlife, & Conservation Biology major with a minor in Spanish. Gretchen is a College of Natural Resource Student Ambassador and is a Class of 2013 Park Scholar. Park Scholarships are very prestigious, full, four-year, merit-based awards for exceptional NC State University undergraduate students.  Following graduation, she plans to pursue a graduate degree through the Peace Corps’ Master’s International Program and later work toward a PhD degree. Gretchen hopes to ultimately work for an organization like the United Nations Environmental Programme, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, or the Natural Resources Conservation Service.