Australian museum close to identifying two new mammals in Solomon Islands

An Australian museum expedition to Solomon Islands believes it is just weeks away from describing two new species of mammals, reports ABC News.

On the last day of a visit to the island of Malaita, people from Oloburi village narrowly missed capturing what is believed to be a new species of giant rat.

Good descriptions of what is thought to be a new monkey-faced bat were also collected as the 15-member expedition made its way on foot from the east coast of the Malaita to the west, through the rugged interior.

The Solomons archipelago is a biodiversity hotspot so rich pioneering mammologist Tim Flannery dubbed it "the Galapagos of the Western Pacific".

The expedition is being led by the University of Queensland's Dr Tyrone Lavery, recipient of the Australian Museum Research Institute's first expedition fellowship.

Unlike expeditions of a century ago more than half of the group is made up of Solomon Islanders who are playing a crucial leadership role.

One of those is Chief Esau from Kwainaa'isi, whose sighting of a giant rat a decade ago helped bring the expedition Solomon Islands.

The expedition has collected stories of sightings of the giant rat (or kwete) from a number of locations but it was a near miss on the final day which had locals and scientists elated.

Members of the expedition will continue to work with villagers.

With their help and with images from newly-deployed camera traps they are confident they will soon have a definitive description of the giant rat.

Prospects for identifying a new monkey-faced bat are also good.

There is no time to waste. Giant rats and monkey-faced bats are thought to need old-growth forests and the threats are many.

Chief Esau is working with neighbouring communities to build partnership for conservation.

Outside influences are not the only problem.

The expeditioners made a point of including children in their activities.

Tommy Esau is hoping the expedition has started to change attitudes.

As coordinator of the Kwaana'isi Cultural Centre — the largest community run archive in the South Pacific — he will continue his work.

Results from the Australian Museum Malaita trip could be known within 10 weeks.

It has other expeditions planned in Guadalcanal and Bougainville before the end of the year.

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