Integrating traditional knowledge, science and conservation in the search for undescribed mammals on Malaita, Solomon islands.
Basic knowledge of species diversity and distributions underpins the study of island biogeography and is fundamental for conservation planning. In Solomon Islands, new mammals continue to be described and several lineages are yet to be documented from large islands where, presumably, they should occur. On Malaita and Makira, no giant rats (Solomys or Uromys), or monkey-faced bats (Pteralopex) have been documented by scientists, but traditional knowledge suggests they exist. In East Kwaio, Malaita, we combined traditional knowledge and scientific methods to survey mammals and search for these taxa. Camera traps, mist nets, spotlight surveys, echolocation call recorders, rat traps and active searches were used to produce an inventory of the island's mammals. No Solomys, Uromys or Pteralopex were captured. However, detailed accounts suggest that giant rats and monkey-faced bats were present as recently as 1996 and 2002 respectively. Moreover, we consider the presence of gnawed Canarium nuts an indicator that giant rats still persist. The human population of Malaita is dense, hunting pressure appears high, feral cats are common, and logging is rapidly reducing primary forests. A notable feature of this work has been the commitment towards collaboration and upskilling landowners in mammal survey techniques. This collaboration has helped fuel a growing conservation movement on Malaita and led to the designation of three large conservation areas. Gathering evidence for the existence of undescribed mammals on Malaita is paramount for reducing further extinctions in Melanesia. Continued support for skilled community members in East Kwaio will be key to collecting this evidence.