Many thought the elusive Colombian weasel was extinct because no one has seen the animal alive before. In 2011, an architect saw and even photographed one — inside a toilet.
The Vulnerable Weasel
On Feb. 26, 2011, architect and professor Juan M. de Roux accidentally found the rare animal in a bathroom beside his parents' country house in Cali-Buenaventura road in Valle del Cauca, Colombia. He remembered seeing the animal as a child, and so when he encountered it again, he took the chance to snap several photos of the weasel using his camera.
"...the little animal moved frantically all over the bathroom, looking for a way out that allowed him to avoid me. I recall a weird scent, I knew at the time that mustelids have odor glands, so I was not surprised, it was something like urine and insects. When I was done with the shots I left the door opened, I did not get any nearer, as it is best to exercise precaution with wild mammals," de Roux posted in a blog entry on the citizen website iNaturalist.
De Roux's house is located near a primary forest that extends to the south into the National Natural Park Farallones de Cali. It is likely that more weasels inhabit the forest.
The Colombian weasel or Mustela felipei is considered the rarest neotropical carnivore that can be found in four localities in Colombia and one in Ecuador. It is listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.
According to the study, diagnostic characters such as the presence of a ventral spot on the animal's chest or neck casts no doubt on its correct identification.
"I thought it was extinct already because we've never seen the animal alive," said Hector Ramirez-Chaves, study author from the Universidad de Caldas in Colombia.
The study officially presented the only photographic record of a living weasel from Colombia. The researchers said the discovery sheds light on the animal's distribution on the Western Cordillera of Colombia, where it was previously located based on a single record obtained on 1986.
"This is the first confirmed record of the Colombian weasel during the 21st century. Finally, we discuss the species' occurrence in protected areas of Colombia, to provide tools for the conservation of this rare species," the authors wrote in their study published in the journal Therya.
Weasels Of The World
Weasels are mammals and are known as the smallest carnivores in the world. They have long bodies and necks, short legs and small heads. Weasels are closely related to ermine, ferrets, polecats, and minks which are all from the Mustela genus. They are also in the same family as badgers, wolverines, and otters.
These mammals have different colors ranging from brown, grey or black with white or yellowish markings. According to Nature Conservancy, all weasels turn white during winter. The fur of the least weasel usually glows a bright lavender color during winter when the animal is exposed to ultraviolet light.
The average least weasels are so small, they grow only up to 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 centimeters) long. The long-tailed and tropical weasels are slightly larger at 10 to 12 inches.