The olinguito is not yet considered an endangered species, but there are threats to its home environment, Helgen said. Many have such forests been chopped down.
"We also kind of hope that in telling this story to the world about the olinguito, that this beautiful new animal serves as something of an ambassador for those embattled cloud forest habitats."
The zoo olinguito
Helgen's group has "discovered" the olinguito, but it been evolving as an independent species for about 3 to 4 million years, he said.
One olinguito whose history Helgen's group studied was exhibited in the United States during its lifetime as if it were an olingo. The creature came from the mountains of Colombia to the Louisville Zoo in 1967, courtesy of a German couple with a love of raccoon family members, Helgen said. It was also in the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington and the Bronx Zoo, where it passed away.
DNA from this olinguito shows that it is clearly not an olingo, Helgen said.
The wife of the animal's keeper told Helgen, "We always thought there was something strange about that olingo," he said.
She told Helgen this particular animal moved from zoo to zoo because she wouldn't breed with the olingos around her.
"It wasn't because she was fussy, it was because she was not at all even the same species," Helgen said.
With the olinguito research announcement, the oddball animal's aloofness has been vindicated.