"When I first met with the people from Vangunu Island in the Solomons, they told me about a rat native to the island that they called vika, which lived in the trees", Lavery said.
After years of searching and racing against rampant deforestation that would obviously destroy the rat's would-be home, Lavery, alongside John Vendi and Hikuna, have finally found it.
Its giant size and powerful jaws, Lavery suggests, are evolutionary adaptations to island life. The country is made up of several islands found a thousand miles northwest of Australia.
Residents of the village of Zaira were happy to guide him, he said, because their forest was one of few parts of the island that had not yet been ravaged by logging, and they were fighting to protect it.
A terrifyingly large but kind of endearing ginger rat has just been discovered in the Solomon Islands. "I started to question if it really was a separate species, or if people were just calling regular black rats "vika". "If you're looking for something that lives on the ground, you're only looking in two dimensions, left to right and forward and backward". The search was laborious and lengthy because the species lived in 30-foot-tall trees, which meant researchers had to add a whole new dimension and angle to their search. A group of naturalists, including Lavery at the University of Queensland, in conjunction with the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, studied and documented the unique animal, also known as Uromys vika or Vanganu giant rat.
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The rat did not resemble any of the eight known species of rats that are native to the islands, and when he compared it to collections in museums, and checked the DNA of rat, he confirmed it indeed was a new species. After much time and effort attempting to find the giant rat in Vangunu's rainforest, a single specimen was eventually found scrambling out of a felled tree. And from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, U. vika is about a foot and a half long. However, on Vangunu, the nuts of the Canarium tree-galip nuts-have been found with round holes chewed into them and the interior meat removed. Its giant size and unusual lifestyle can be traced to the peculiarities of the Solomon Islands. More than half of the mammal species found in the Solomons are found nowhere else on the planet. He explained that ancestors of the vika likely floated to the island on a raft and then evolved into a new species after years of isolation. "But it was enough to start me thinking we had a chance to find this rat". "It's quite rare and very hard to find", said Tyrone Lavery, a mammalogist in Australia.
Because the species lives mostly in the treetops, it was extremely hard to find.
"The discovery marks an important moment in the biological study of the Solomon Islands, especially since vika is so uncommon and close to extinction", says Lavery.
Considering how rare it is to find a new mammal, it's extra important that we preserve the vika.