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Uruguayan paleontologists are celebrating their own “Year of the Rat” in style, having recently unearthed the fossilized skull of a pre-historic giant rat! This fearsome beast, the latest amazing dino-discovery in Latin America, is thought to have grown to the size of a bull and weighed in at a mind-boggling 1000kg.

Scientists believe that the species would have lived on a diet of fruit and leaves; and may have sadly become extinct as the species became too big to dig its burrows and too slow to outrun its predators!

The closest living relative is thought to be the rare Pacarana (paca), still found today in remote tropical forests of Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia. Size: 3-foot long, weight: 15kg.

The nearest equivalent in size, however, is the less elusive Capybara – the world’s largest rodent, and an oversized member of the guinea pig family. Size: 4 foot long, weight: up to 65kg.

See the capybara, the “master of the grasses”, grazing in South America’s great wetland areas:

* The Pantanal (BRAZIL): 14 nights "Brazil's Wild Side" tailor-made trip, from £2057 pp + flights

* Los Llanos (VENEZUELA): 10 nights “Venezuela venture” family trip, from £3815 + flights, for a family of 2 adults and 1 child (under 7) sharing a family room.

* Esteros del Iberá (ARGENTINA): 3 nights at Posada Aguapé from £519 pp + flights.

Our “Top 5” other fossils finds...

More than 65 million years ago, much of southern Bolivia and large parts of Patagonian Argentina were huge, freshwater lakes and flood plains – home to great herds of dinosaurs. In the past 30 years, the region has become a real “dinosaur hotspot” as more and more finds are discovered:

1) Neuquen (ARGENTINA) – a less visited region of Patagonia, known locally as the “Valley of the Dinosaurs”. Once home to the “Argentinosaurus”, the largest-known dinosaur, discovered in 1987. Combine with Lake District town of Bariloche for outdoor adventures and stunning scenery.

2) Sucre (BOLIVIA) – the “Cal Orcko museum”, a mud wall with more than 5000 dinosaur footprints, thought to belong to more than 200 species of dinosaur! Found in the 1990’s in a cement quarry near the city. Combine with colourful Tarabuco market, La Paz or Lake Titicaca

3) Villa de Leiva (COLOMBIA) – see the fossilized bones of a marine dinosaur in the local museum. Combine with Bogotá, Cartagena and the country’s lovely Zona Cafetera (Coffee Area).

4) Puerto Natales in Patagonia (CHILE) – the Milodon Cave, where fur and bones of a long-extinct ground sloth were found in the 19th century. Combine with trekking in Torres del Paine.

5) Managua (NICARAGUA) - 6000 year-old fossilized human footprints in the lakeshore, at the Museo Acahualinca. Combine with colonial Granada, or other highlights of “red-hot” Nicaragua.

NOTE: see links for sample package prices and info on the above places.

Tel: 020 8747 8315 (UK) or 1800 818 126 (Eire).

Tim Murray-Walker:
Jenny Hyden: 020 8622 8416
Jenny Powles: 020 8622 8418

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