The least studied carnivore in the world can be considered a ghost species.
The term designates a living organism whose information is collected through examination of specimens in the collections of natural history museums. The data-gathering sometimes gets supplemented by the in-house commentaries and scholarly publications of the institution’s departmental curators. Empirical evidence and scientific summaries give clarification or inject confusion depending upon:
•potency of technology;
•precision of identification;
•purity of specimen.
The dubious distinction of being the world’s most un-researched meat-eater goes to the Andean mountain coati of northern South America. The honor lingers despite the nimble mammal’s sharing name recognition with:
•beloved brown-nosed coatis (Nasua nasua) of continental South America and insular Chile;
•lovable white-nosed coatis (Nasua narica) of mainland Central, North and South America and insular southern Mexico.
It also makes possible:
•misidentification of animals in captivity and in the wild;
•misperception of species’ lifestyles;
•misunderstanding of wilderness’ stresses.
All three obstacles may be encountered in the case of the mountain coati. For example, zoo personnel and visitors in Broussard, Louisiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Moorpark, California misidentify the more accessible brown-nosed coati as the more elusive mountain coati. Researchers and wildlife-lovers misperceive the obligate role of mountain coatis solely as pollinators and seed-dispersers.
Excepting locals and poachers, everyone misunderstands the consequences, for high altitude-adapted wildlife, of agro-industry’s expansion into loftier elevations.