AVALON (CBSLA) — A small, mouse-like creature native to Catalina Island that was feared to be extinct has been spotted by wildlife conservationists for the first time in more than 15 years.
Researchers captured a live Catalina Island Shrew on a remote camera for the first time since 2004, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Three other major research efforts to document the mammal in more than 200,000 photos and 1,500 camera trap nights since 2016 had failed to get a glimpse of the elusive and endemic shrew, who is distinctive for its elongated snout and short tail.
“I thought, and really hoped, that they still existed somewhere on the island,” Emily Hamblen, a conservancy wildlife biologist, said in a statement. “Animals are incredibly resilient, and it is amazing to see that they are still here.”
An adult shrew is just about 3.74 inches including its tail and weighs just 3.96 grams, equal to about four paper clips, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy.
The mammal eats only insects and has a high metabolism, so it can only survive for 23 hours without feeding. Their need to eat frequently makes them a challenge to capture safely, so researchers turned to remote camera traps as a noninvasive way of trying to collect data without disturbing the shrew.
Remote cameras inside overturned five-gallon buckets captured more than 83,000 photos in 12 weeks, but researchers have only been able to review a few thousand images and had to also sift through other species that poked their heads into the traps, including alligator lizards, rattlesnakes, skinks, mice, rats, ground squirrels and foxes.
Researchers say shrews, which were deemed a Species of Special Concern in 1996, like wetland habitats that need protection. The current biggest threat to the species are cats.
The Conservancy now plans to figure out how widely distributed the mammal is on Catalina Island.