The Natal multimammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis, occurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Mitochondrial phylogenetics indicate this species was fragmented during the Pleistocene, forming six matrilineage phylogroups: A-I, A-II, A-III, B-IV, B-V, B-VI with distinct ranges. All except the A-III lineage are identified as natural reservoirs of mammarenaviruses. M. natalensis A-III is found in western Ethiopia and is the only lineage reported in the country. While screening 203 small mammal samples from Dhati Welel National Park for mammarenaviruses, we detected mammarenavirus RNA in nine samples, eight from M. natalensis and one from M. awashensis. A sequence similarity search and phylogenetic analysis confirmed the M. natalensis mitochondrial DNA belongs to the A-III lineage. We characterised the complete virus genome, which showed typical mammarenavirus organisation. Phylogenetic analysis indicated it clusters with Gairo virus found in M. natalensis B-IV in Tanzania, while showing sufficient divergence from other mammarenaviruses to be considered as a new species, for which we proposed the name Dhati Welel. Additional sampling in the M. natalensis A-III phylogeographic range should help determine whether the detection of the virus in M. awashensis represents a local spill-over or if the virus circulates in both Mastomys species.
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Vol. 69 • No. 2