PTWC recently participated in a conservation workshop on one of the most endangered mammal families in the world, golden moles (Chrysochloridae).
Sadly, we were told that the biggest single threat to the remarkable species of mole is mining. The workshop aimed to identify research gaps, threats, and conservation strategies towards a multi-species action plan for threatened golden moles across South Africa.
Not to be mistaken with commonly observed mole-rats (rodents), golden moles have to date been largely overlooked by scientist and therefore managed to remain some of the lesser-known and more elusive mammals in Africa. This is hopefully all about to change with the spotlight finally bright and clear on these iridescent critters.
Golden moles are part of a group of strange African mammals called Afrotheria. Mammals placed in the Afrotheria group are believed to have derived from a common African ancestor.
You may have heard that elephants and hyraxes are related – together with aardvark, sengis (or elephant-shrews), tenrecs (endemic to Madagascar) and golden moles, the group is made up of less than a hundred species. And 21 of those are golden moles only found in Southern Africa.
“The West Coast is one of the most exciting places for golden moles!” - Cobus Theron, EWT Drylands Conservation Programme Manager
Six species of golden moles are found in the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo dryland biomes which cover the Western and Northern Cape coastline. Under the IUCN species red list, one of these, Van Zyl’s Golden mole have been classified as Endangered (EN) and another, De Winton’s Golden mole as Critically Endangered (CR) with both species believed to be facing high to very high risks of extinction. Visagie’s Golden mole is classified as Data Deficient (DD) which means that too little is known about the species to make an accurate risk assessment at this stage.
Just to highlight how terrifyingly little is known about all these species: Van Zyl’s Golden mole is known from only two locations near Lamberts Bay and Groenriviermond, recorded almost two decades ago and De Winton’s Golden mole was last recorded more than eight decades ago! With technological advances in research methodologies come possibilities of finding and studying these elusive, subterranean mammals.
Together with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the University of Pretoria and University of Stellenbosch, evolutionary geneticist Dr Samantha Mynhardt, is using environmental DNA (eDNA) to identify golden mole species. eDNA are traces of DNA (from skin cells, hair, blood, scat) left by organisms in their environments.
Golden moles live solitary lives and dig and move along tunnels 5 - 10 cm just below sand surface leaving foraging trails that are relatively easy to spot. In a novel approach the team of researchers is collecting sand samples from trails left by golden moles to analyse for eDNA. The technique is proving to be successful and will help to determine species occurrences and distributions.
Dr Mynhardt’s research is aimed at understanding the processes that determined species distributions in relation to each other, or phylogeographic relationships, in golden mole populations and contribute data to the evolutionary history and taxonomy or classification of golden mole species. Ultimately this will increase our understanding of golden moles’ vulnerability in a highly threatened environment.
PTWC is committed to ensuring that golden moles’ environment is protected from irresponsible mining activities. The only way to ensure a species’ survival in the wild is through protecting its habitat and the processes and relationships it depends on.
Help us protect these wonderful critters and the west coast by donating to our cause - https://www.protectthewestcoast.org/donate