for National Geographic News
Madagascar's giant jumping rats are less endangered than previously thought, new surveys suggest.
The rats, which can launch themselves three feet (a meter) into the air with their kangaroolike hind legs, were predicted in 2001 to become extinct on the African island by 2025.
But several studies over a more extensive area of the nocturnal animal's habitat have found this forecast to be excessively pessimistic.
The new findings have led researchers to increase their population estimate for the rabbit-size rodents from 11,000 to around 33,000.
The data come from tallies of the animals' burrows and the results of camera trapsdevices set to take a photograph each time a rat enters or exits its burrow.
Despite the revised population estimate, scientists warn that giant jumping rats still need the attention of continued conservation efforts.
"It's no reason to be complacent because this absolutely incredible animal is restricted to such a tiny area," said John Fa, director of conservation science at England's Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which conducted the surveys.
Rare, Unusual Animal
The giant jumping rat is found only in a fragmented region of dry, deciduous forestjust 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) in sizein an area of western Madagascar called Menabe. (See Madagascar map.)
A village splits the habitat in two, isolating a northern population of giant jumping rats from one further south.
Local people collect firewood and honey from the forest and occasionally start fires to clear land for agriculture.
Where this destruction is most acute, only thick-trunked baobab trees remain. The result is an emptier landscape of scrappy shrub and grassland where giant jumping rats have difficulty burrowing, Fa explains.
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