A new cat-sized rodent has been discovered on the Caribbean island Hispaniola.

It weighs more than a kilogram, and has soft-brown fur and a short tail. It is also nocturnal and lives in small burrows or caves, which might explain why it has avoided detection for so long.

Its name: Bond, James Bond. Or at least that's the version that rolls off the tongue. Its scientific classification is Plagiodontia aedium bondi.

This may require some explanation.

James Bond was a real-life ornithologist based in the Caribbean. When Ian Fleming created his fictional master of sneak, he took his name from the ornithologist.

Bond discovered that there was a barrier running across Hispaniola, on either side of which the animals are noticeably different.

Centuries ago, there was a shallow sea channel running across the island, which prevented animals from moving freely. The barrier became known as "Bond's line".

Live and let die

The newly discovered guinea-pig-like creature belongs to an ancient group of rodents called hutias. It has been described in the journal Zootaxa.  

"The discovery of new mammals is always incredibly exciting, as there are now so few unexplored places left in the world," says lead author Samuel Turvey from the Zoological Society of London in the UK.  

The group once had as many as 30 species, but most of these are now extinct, largely due to human activity.

"The Caribbean has had the world's highest level of mammal extinctions in the last few hundred years caused by humans," says Turvey.

Species have been shaken and stirred by human activity

The islands were colonised in the 1500s, and humans introduced invasive cats, dogs and mongoose. The native animals weren't prepared to cope with these threats.

More recently, people have been destroying the forests the hutias live in.

The few hutias that remain are nearly all highly endangered. Now that the James Bond hutia has been discovered and named, there is some hope for its survival.

"Species found on isolated islands, such as those in the Caribbean, have been shaken and stirred by human activity and are very vulnerable to extinction," says Turvey. "However, we hope that conservation efforts will mean that hutias are forever."

An increased awareness of Bond will lead to legislation and funding to protect it.

But that will mean finding out more about how they live. "It's hard to make meaningful conservation management and recommendations in the absence of much information," says Turvey.

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