Because they're home to creatures such as the pen-tailed tree shrew, a tiny mouse-like creature with a feathery tail that dwells in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. They're not only cute enough to star in animated movies like Madagascar, but guess what, they can even teach us a thing or two about how to hold our drinks!
A recent paper released by scientists from Bayreuth University in Germany found that Malaysian pen-tailed tree shrews could ingest large amounts of alcohol from fermented palm nectar - an intake level comparable to humans downing nine glasses of wine - without getting intoxicated. Attempts to replicate such a feat by other mammals, including humans, would have seriously detrimental health effects.
The findings not only overturn existing theories about the evolutionary role of alcohol consumption in humans, but may also provide clues for devising strategies to cope with alcohol-related problems.
For example, by examining how the creatures' metabolic processes cope with excessive alcohol, new medication may be developed to treat hangovers.
The shrew's positive adaptation to large alcohol doses may shed light on how animals evolved a taste for alcohol, and why people abuse alcohol, thus paving the way for improved therapy approaches to treat alcoholism.
Full findings and videos about the tree shrew can be accessed here.
Amusing discoveries about animals and plants like this serve as little reminders to us on how much the natural world has to offer in unraveling mysteries about ourselves and improving human well-being.
Yet, as the latest Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (pdf) reports on biodiversity, "Over the past few hundred years, humans have increased species extinction rates by as much as 1,000 times background rates that were typical over Earth's history."
Furthermore, "Changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, and the drivers of change that cause biodiversity loss and lead to changes in ecosystem services are either steady, show no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity."
The pen-tailed tree shrews, and other species may yet become endangered, but the present alarmingly high rates of wildlife extinction means, sadly, we are already in the process of rapidly burning the pages of nature's library of wisdom without even having the chance to study them.
Even if we learn the secrets of drinking from the humble tree shrew, the biodiversity loss that we continue to inflict upon ourselves in our ignorance is certainly a sorrow that we can't drink away.
- UN Biodiversity Conference, Part II: Protective Steps and Future Plans
- UN Biodiversity Conference Part I: Highlighting Wildlife Loss Around the World
- Madagascar's $20 Million Debt-for-Nature Deal
- Brazilian Government Places Some of the Rainforest Under Protection - But is it Enough?
- Caribbean Monk Seal, We Hardly Knew Ye
- Plants, a Good Way to Clean Up Soil Toxins
- Not the Koala Bears, Too!
- Ecuador: Establishing the Rights of Nature
- Golden Frog Waves Goodbye, Then Goes Extinct in the Wild
- 75 per cent of Food Diversity Lost in Last Century