By Liz Kimbrough
The bushmeat markets of Lao PDR (Laos) are filled with racks of wild game harvested both legally and illegally from the surrounding landscapes. While these meat markets certainly provide local protein to patrons, for wildlife biologists they offer something more. These bizarre zoological exhibits are a rich source of information about wildlife populations and wildlife consumption in remote areas.
In September 2012, a team from the National University of Laos surveyed markets in central Lao PDR for squirrels. In one of the many small markets, Master’s student Daosavanh Sanamxay found something remarkable, a single specimen of a flying squirrel previously undescribed to science. The researchers described this newly discovered species in a 2013 Zootaxa publication, giving it the English name: the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis).
The Laotian giant flying squirrel is only the second record of the genus, Biswamoyopterus, the first being the Critically Endangered Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi), known only from a single physical example collected in 1981 in Arunachal Pradesh, India. The new Laotian giant flying squirrel is also the first record of the genus from Southeast Asia.
Though the new species does show close affinities to the Namdapha flying squirrel, it is certainly distinct, differing substantially in color of the body, patagia (membrane between limbs of flying mammals), tail membrane, and tail pelage, as well as size.
"We don't know how endangered this species is... during my second survey in the market, I found approximately 10 dead body of this species in the [freezers\ of the sellers," Daosavanh Sanamxay, lead author and current master’s student at the National University of Laos, told mongabay.com. More....