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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
New pictures of 'living fossil'
The Laotian rock rat

A rodent that "came back from the dead" after supposedly going extinct millions of years ago appears to be more common than previously thought.

The Laotian rock rat, known locally as the kha-nyou, was identified as a species new to science in 2005.

It was spotted at a hunter's market in Laos by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

A return visit has uncovered more specimens, suggesting the squirrel-like animal may not be that rare.

The creature was originally thought to belong to an entirely new rodent family more closely related to rodents in Africa and South America than in Asia.

However, after a detailed search through the fossil records of the Natural History Museum in London, the mammal is now believed to be the sole survivor of an ancient group of rodents that died out 11 million years ago.

"The Laotian rock rat (Laonastes aenigmamus), described last year by the Wildlife Conservation Society scientists in Laos, is certainly new to science and a genetically distinct species, while also representing the lone survivor of an ancient family," the WCS said.

"However, it may not be that rare. On a recent visit to a hunter's market in Laos, WCS conservationist Peter Clyne found the rats to be quite common, photographing several specimens."

The conservation status of the species is unknown, and it has never been observed by biologists in the wild.

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