It had not been seen for 85 years, but scientists have tracked it down.

It had been immortalised by Steve McQueen (as Captain Virgil Hilts) in The Great Escape. The American Hilts, noted for his innumerable escape attempts, describes to a group of English (co-) prisoners how to tunnel through the earth—Swim through the soil by grabbing the soil in front of you and pushing it behind you, over your body. Simple.

Like a mole!

The De Winton Golden mole, a shy, shiny, tiny, blind creature had not been seen since it was last spotted in 1936 on the North-western coast of South Africa, and presumed extinct. But a group of conservationists and geneticists from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and University of Pretoria, nosed around in a dune habitat on the South African coast, between Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay.

In a press release of November 28, the EWT declared that the De Winton golden mole is “no longer lost”. The creature is 11th of the world’s ‘most wanted lost species’ to be rediscovered, since the ‘Search for Lost Species’ project was launched in 2017. The (re-)discovery of the golden mole was not by dumb luck; Nor painstaking footwork. Deep science came into play as scientists had to examine ‘environmental DNA’ from soil—DNA from skin cells, hairs and bodily excretions that animals shed. Since the expedition in 2021, EWT has identified four additional De Winton’s golden mole populations. “They are working to protect the moles and learn more about the species,” the release says.