The newly discovered genus Niumbaha superba, dubbed the 'panda bat' and discovered in South Sudan. Picture:

London - Researchers have hailed a bat that looks uncannily like a panda bear as “the find of a lifetime”.

The bat, discovered in South Sudan, is so rare researchers believe it is an entirely new genus.

“My attention was immediately drawn to the bat’s strikingly beautiful and distinct pattern of spots and stripes,” said Bucknell University associate professor of biology DeeAnn Reeder, who made the discovery.

“It was clearly a very extraordinary animal, one that I had never seen before – I knew the second I saw it that it was the find of a lifetime.”

After returning to the US, Reeder determined the bat was the same as one originally captured in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1939 and named Glauconycteris superba, but she and colleagues did not believe that it fit with other bats in the genus Glauconycteris. Reeder spotted the animal in Bangangai Game Reserve.

“After careful analysis, it is clear that it doesn’t belong in the genus that it’s in right now,” Reeder said.

“Its cranial characters, its wing characters, its size, the ears – literally everything you look at doesn’t fit. It’s so unique that we need to create a new genus.”

In the paper, “A new genus for a rare African vespertilionid bat: insights from South Sudan” just published by the journal ZooKeys, Reeder, along with co-authors from the Smithsonian Institution and the Islamic University in Uganda, put the bat in a new genus – Niumbaha.

The word means “rare” or “unusual” in Zande, the language of the Azande people in Western Equatoria State, where the bat was captured.

The bat is just the fifth specimen of its kind ever collected, and the first in South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011.

“Our discovery of this new genus of bat is an indicator of how diverse the area is and how much work remains,” Reeder added.

“Understanding and conserving biodiversity is critical in many ways.

“Knowing what species are present in an area allows for better management. When species are lost, ecosystem-level changes ensue.

“I’m convinced this area is one in which we need to continue to work.”

The team’s research in South Sudan was made possible by a $100 000 (R890 000) grant Reeder received from the Woodtiger Fund.

The private research foundation recently awarded Reeder another $100 000 grant to continue her research next month and to support Fauna and Flora International’s conservation programmes.

“‘To me, this discovery is significant because it highlights the biological importance of South Sudan and hints that this new nation has many natural wonders yet to be discovered,” said Matt Rice, Fauna and Flora International’s South Sudan director. “It is a country with much to offer and to protect.” – Daily Mail