Photograph Evidence : Think your city's rats are too big? Steer clear of the island of Vangunu.

For years, the indigenous people on Vangunu, one of the Solomon islands, had insisted a critically endangered giant rat that could chew through coconuts still lived in the forest, though its members had dwindled as loggers destroyed its habitat.

None had been documented alive before. But it turned out that the people of the village of Zaira were right.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Solomon Islands National University, with help from the local community, recently captured photos of the Vangunu giant rat, or Uromys vika.

It is one of the world's rarest rodents, and Vangunu is the only island it is known to inhabit.

The rat, called Vika by the people of Vangunu, is at least twice the size of a common rat, at about 18 inches [45 centimeters], half of which accounts for the tail, researchers said.

The sightings were published in the academic journal Ecology and Evolution.

Working with residents of Zaira was the key to finding the rat, and Kevin Sese of the Solomon Islands National University, who is  from the island of Guadalcanal, southwest of Vangunu Island.

'' They are the custodians of the local knowledge,'' said Mr. Sese, a senior author of the paper. '' If it weren't for them we wouldn't have known where to place the cameras.

The researchers changed the kind of bait they were using from the peanut butter, which would rot after sitting out for long periods of time, to sesame oil.

Just a few days after the bait was set out, the rats started to emerge. Over six months, the authors of the paper captured 95 images of four different rats.

'' I was shocked and amazed really, because, as I said I've tried this a number of times before and only ever got black rats,'' said Dr. Tyrone Laverty of the University of Melbourne School of Biosciences, the lead author of the paper.

Zaira has long been battling to have a patch of forest recognized as a protected area under the Solomon Islands Protected Areas Act 2010, Dr.Laverty said.

Now that the images showed the Vilka are still out there, he said, he hopes that will strengthen the village's case. [ Rebecca Carballo ]


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