Elusive De Winton’s Golden Mole Rediscovered in South Africa After 90 Years

In an extraordinary turn of events, the elusive De Winton’s golden mole, believed extinct for nearly 90 years, has been detected in South Africa.

This rediscovery has challenged perceptions about species survival, and brought innovative methods into the light of conservation science.

De Winton's golden mole is part of the

Photo: YouTube / NPR’s Skunk Bear
De Winton’s golden mole is part of the “world’s most wanted lost species” list by Re:wild.

The Search and Discovery

The journey to find De Winton’s golden mole, a creature last recorded in 1936, involved a relentless pursuit by researchers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the University of Pretoria.

As CBS News reports, the group traversed up to 18 kilometers of dune habitat daily, employing a scent-detecting Border Collie, Jessie, to locate the mole’s tunnels under the sands of Port Nolloth beach.

De Winton's golden mole was believed extinct for nearly 90 years.

Photo: YouTube / NPR’s Skunk Bear
De Winton’s golden mole was believed extinct for nearly 90 years.

Revolutionary Techniques in Wildlife Conservation

A groundbreaking aspect of this discovery was the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) samples, including skin, hair, and bodily excretions, found in the soil. According to Newsweek, this technique was a first of its kind for such a search, and crucial in confirming the presence of De Winton’s golden mole without physically sighting the animal.

Reflecting on this milestone, Cobus Theron, a senior conservation manager for EWT, shared his thoughts in a re:Wild press release.

This species is critically endangered.

Photo: YouTube / NPR’s Skunk Bear
De Winton’s golden mole is critically endangered.

“Though many people doubted that De Winton’s golden mole was still out there, I had good faith that the species had not yet gone extinct,” said Theron, a senior conservation manager for EWT and a member of the search team. “I was convinced it would just take the right detection method, the proper timing, and a team passionate about finding it.

“I think it’s just fantastic that in 2023 we can still rediscover species. All of our stories around conservation are doom and gloom. Here we have an opportunity to say that, actually, there are opportunities to make change.”

The mole has highly sensitive hearing, detecting ground vibrations.

Photo: YouTube / NPR’s Skunk Bear
The mole has highly sensitive hearing, detecting ground vibrations.

The Significance of Rediscovery

The rediscovery of the De Winton’s golden mole, categorized as critically endangered, is not just a scientific triumph but also a symbol of hope. It challenges the grim narrative of species extinction and demonstrates that with innovative techniques and dedicated efforts, lost species can be found.

Christina Biggs, a lost species specialist for Re:wild, reflected on this achievement in an interview with Barron’s, stating, “They left no sandhill unturned and now it’s possible to protect the areas where these threatened and rare moles live.”

She added that environmental DNA’s role in this search was a “case study on how such forward-thinking technologies can be utilised to find other lost species.”

The Threats to Their Survival

Despite this positive development, the De Winton’s golden mole remains at risk. Their habitat, primarily the dune ecosystems near beaches, faces threats from mining and residential developments, re:Wild reports. Protecting these areas is now more crucial than ever to ensure the survival of this rare species.

Learn more about De Winton’s golden mole in the video below.

Broader Implications in Conservation

This discovery is not just about one species; it represents a broader potential for wildlife conservation. The successful use of eDNA paves the way for similar techniques to be applied in the search for other lost species.

The rediscovery of the De Winton’s golden mole is a landmark event in conservation. It highlights the resilience of nature and the power of human ingenuity in protecting our planet’s biodiversity. As we celebrate this achievement, we are also reminded of the continuous need to innovate and persevere in the face of environmental challenges.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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