VALENCIA – In Bioparc Valencia specimens of the Heterocephalus glaber have been born. These African mammals possess a special gene that prevents uncontrolled cell growth and tumours. Therefore, they attract the attention of scientists worldwide.
The naked mole rat is therefore known as ‘the animal of eternal youth’. And let that be something that is being pursued by more and more people in the most diverse ways. In addition to the special gene, the animal has a remarkable anatomy. Due to their subterranean lifestyle, they have very small eyes with limited vision. They move quickly through tunnels thanks to their short legs. The mole rats have remarkably large incisors that they use to dig into the hard ground. They have hairless skin with no fat layer.
But what also makes this species unique among mammals is their ‘eusocial’ way of life, similar to that of ants or bees. There is only one reproductive female mole rat, the ‘queen’, and a few male mates. The rest of the colony is sterile and has specific roles, such as digging tunnels or serving as ‘soldiers’.
Immune to Cancer
Naked mole rats can live as long as 30 years. That is exceptional for such a small mammal. The p16 gene is said to be responsible for this. Moreover, that prevents uncontrolled cell growth and tumours, which makes them largely immune to cancer.
Furthermore, the naked rodents are well adapted to underground life. Depending on the oxygen level, they can adjust their blood temperature from ‘warm’ (like mammals) to ‘cold’ (like reptiles). With a lack of oxygen, they can survive for up to 10 minutes by behaving like a ‘plant’.
The naked mole rat is native to the arid regions of the Horn of Africa. They are excellent diggers and create elaborate tunnel systems. At the extraordinary Bioparc Valencia, they live in an area that mimics the subterranean life of the savannah, visible to the public.
In April 2017, Bioparc welcomed two groups of naked mole rats from the Institut Für Zoo-Und Wildtierforschung Berlin, Germany. The new litter has now been born from one of these groups.
Bioparc Valencia is not just another zoo because it adopts the “zoo-immersion” concept: Visitors are submerged in the animals’ habitats rather than the animals being displayed in enclosures. This offers a more authentic experience and promotes empathy and understanding for the animals. Furthermore, The park has done an incredible job recreating the natural habitats of the animals. There are no visible barriers, making it feel as if the animals are in their natural environments.