The world's rarest otter has been rediscovered in Borneo, after a single individual was photographed by a camera trap set by conservation scientists.
The hairy-nosed otter was pictured in the Deramakot Forest Reserve in Sabah.
The last confirmed record of the hairy-nosed otter in the state of Sabah was more than 100 years ago, and it has not been seen in Borneo since an individual was killed by a car in 1997.
The otter only occurs in a handful of locations outside of Borneo.
Experts only realised they had recorded a hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) after examining photos of three different otter species.
One otter species caught on camera was the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), while another was the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus).
But a close examination of one photograph revealed it had recorded a hairy-nosed otter, which has a flatter, longer head, a white throat and darker fur than its two relatives.
Trapped by technology
The otter was recorded by an automated camera trap, one of many set up in Deramakot and the surrounding forest reserves during the last two years as part of the Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah (ConCaSa) project initiated by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and performed in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department.
Details of the latest finding have been published in the journal Small Carnivore Conservation, a publication of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.
"Even over the whole island of Borneo the last record, a road-kill from Brunei, was 1997, over ten years ago. Therefore it was unknown to scientists if this species can be still found on Borneo," says project leader Mr Andreas Wilting of the IZW.
"Also outside of Borneo it is just known from a few localities throughout its distribution and in general it is very rare," he told the BBC.
"This is great news for Sabah and shows once again how unique and fortunate we are in terms of wildlife and nature," says Dr Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department.
"These findings also boost the conservation of this endangered otter internationally, as historically this otter was distributed throughout large parts of southeast Asia."
The otter has been known to live in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, but the records of its existence in these places are patchy, depending on a few sightings, road kill and skins.
Few hairy-nosed otters are thought to survive in the wild, with the species listed as endangered by the IUCN.
It is a medium-sized otter, around 1.3m in length and weighing around 7kg. The paws are fully webbed with well-developed claws.
Further steps to protect Bornean otters and other carnivores will be developed at the Borneo Carnivore Symposium, which will be held in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia in June 2011.
Earlier this year, the ConCaSa project released the first video to be made public of a wild Sundaland clouded leopard.
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- Visit Small Carnivore Conservation to find out more about the carnivores of Deramakot, Sabah