Rediscovery of the Pinatubo Volcano Mouse

Bryan Justine G. Dela Cruz ||

30 years ago, in the province of Zambales, endless amounts of magma and ash spewed out of the mouth of Mount Pinatubo. Lava that pooled into layers up to 600 feet thick in the valleys burned and destroyed everything it touched. The once lavish green forests covering the mountains were dead, and everything in sight was black and grey. Recorded as the second-most powerful volcanic eruption of the 20th century, life and diversity in the area was hanging on a thread. As days turned to years, Mount Pinatubo’s rich ecosystem had seemed to be long forgotten, until Danny Balete showed interest and surveyed the mammalian population fairing on Mount Pinatubo.

Over several months, in early 2011 and again in 2012, Danny Balete, a Filipino zoologist and biologist, researched on the mammal fauna of Mount Pinatubo. Balete and his team scouted from the bottom to near the top of the mountain. The devastation brought by the eruption was still evident, landscapes were unstable and hazardous, yet they pursued the investigation. 

Balete and his team wanted to know the fate of Apomys sacobianus, commonly called the Pinatubo Volcano Mouse, that was thought to have been all wiped out by the eruption. The Pinatubo Volcano Mouse is a rodent found only in the tropical dry forests in the Philippines and was once thought to be extinct. 

After months of monitoring the dangerous and unstable land of Mount Pinatubo, the team produced surprising results. Overwhelmingly, the most surprising discovery was the abundance of Apomys sacobianus. Far from extinction, this species was thriving in the disturbed land.

After completing the investigation, Danny Balete returned to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and prepared for his eventual publication; however, in 2017, Balete died with the publication unfinished. Eric Rickart and Larry Heaney, co-authors of Balete, picked up and completed the study as a tribute to him. Balete is now recognized as one of the most important figures in the Philippine Biodiversity Science.

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