- Known from western Xinjiang (northwest China) and extreme southern Mongolia.
- Jerboas are small jumping rodents that resemble mice with long tufted tails and very long hindlegs.
- The long-eared jerboa can be distinguished from other jerboas by its enormous ears, which are about a third larger than the head.
- The long-eared jerboa is thought to have one of the largest ear to body ratios of any mammal.
A bizarre creature dubbed the Mickey Mouse of the desert has been filmed in its natural habitat for the first time as part of a project to save it from extinction. Giant ears and kangaroo legs lend the long-eared jerboa a comic quality and conservationists are anxious to save it from a tragic end.
A scientific expedition to the Gobi desert in Mongolia has now succeeded in capturing video footage of the nocturnal and little-known animal.
“The long-eared jerboa is a bit like the Mickey Mouse of the desert, cute and comic in equal measure,” said Dr Jonathon Baille of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “It’s an extraordinary animal that looks as if it’s been designed by committee – kangaroo legs, snowshoe feet, huge ears and a pig’s nose. It represents millions of years of evolutionary history and while it looks like a small rodent it’s very, very distinct. There’s no other animal of its type.”
It lives in the deserts of Mongolia and China where it is thought to use its enormous ears to
pinpoint and catch insects in the dark. The ears are so big that they are about 35 per cent longer than its head.
Specially adapted hairs on their elongated feet make the jerboas even more unusual and appear to help spread the animal’s weight to allow it to hop confidently over shifting sands just as snowshoes make it easier to walk on snow.
Long-eared jerboas are described as “mouse-sized kangaroos” because of the way they jump on two legs instead of scampering on four. The stretch feet enable it to leap upwards and other jerboa species have been found to be able to leap more than three feet into the air. Jumping and hopping are assumed to have evolved as a technique to evade predators, which can include wildcats, lynx, grey wolves and Pallas’s Cat.
It was identified earlier this year by the ZSL as one of the 100 most evolutionarily distinct and endangered mammals in the world. Being one of the least understood creatures scientists selected it as one of their ten priority species for conservation under the Edge (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) project.
As part of conservation effort to learn more about the long-eared jerboa, Euchoreutes naso, and highlight its plight zoologists were keen to get the first video footage of the endangered animal in the wild. During a recent ZSL expedition to the Gobi desert in Mongolia to study the species and learn more of its needs and habits, scientists managed to capture it on film. Dr Baillie, who led the expedition, added: “They can be quite agressive little creatures. They have a good bite and for their size can defend themselves well. We wore thick gloves when handling them.” As part of efforts to safeguard the creature’s longterm future ZSL and Mongolian academics have begun a program to study its habits and needs.
- The species is thought to be at risk from human disturbance of its habitat.
- Increasing numbers of grazing livestock may be a threat in some areas.
- Predation by feral cats has recently been identified as a potential threat to some Mongolian populations.
- Drying of water sources and drought, possibly due to a combination of human activities and climate change.
- Further ecological research to determine behavior, ecology and the impact of threats.
- Habitat surveys.
- Community surveys to determine which activities might potentially be impacting upon Jerboa populations.
- Development of comprehensive Conservation Action Plan detailing the actions needed to save the species.
- Habitat protection and management within existing protected areas.