Elusive elephant shrew rediscovered after 50 years

Posted by Lucinda Dordley on 20 August 2020

The tiny elephant shrew has been rediscovered in the Horn of Africa after disappearing for 50 years. This little mammal is related to the great, majestic elephant, and the last scientific record of it was in the 1970s.

Also known as a sengi, the ‘lost species’ was found again during a scientific expedition in Djibouti, a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is also related to aardvarks as well as manatees. They have long trunk-like noses, which they use to eat their main diet – insects.

There are 20 known species of sengi across the world, but the most mysterious remains the Somali sengi. There are only 39 samples of this specific species of the mammalian creature.

Speaking to the BBC, Steven Heritage, who is a research scientist for Duke University Lemur Centre in Durham, located in the United States, said he was thrilled to find the species ‘back on the radar’.

‘We did not know which species occurred in Djibouti and when we saw the diagnostic feature of a little tufted tail, we looked at each other and we knew that it was something special,’ he said. ‘For Djibouti this is an important story that highlights the great biodiversity of the country and the region and shows that there are opportunities for new science and research here.’

The team set a total of 1,000 traps in 12 locations and made bait using peanut butter, yeast and oatmeal. A sengi was caught in a trap set in Djibouti’s dry, rocky landscape.

Twelve sengis were seen during the expedition, and they now have the first-ever photos and videos of a living Somali sengi. The range of these little creatures may extend beyond Somalia to Ethiopia.

‘Usually when we rediscover lost species, we find just one or two individuals and have to act quickly to try to prevent their imminent extinction,’ said Robin Moore of Gobal Wildlife Conservation. ‘This is a welcome and wonderful rediscovery during a time of turmoil for our planet, and one that fills us with renewed hope for the remaining small mammal species on our most-wanted list, such as the DeWinton’s golden mole, a relative of the sengi, and the Ilin Island cloudrunner.’

The DNA analysis of the Somali sengi is most closely related to species as far away as Morocco and South Africa. This places it in a whole new genus.

Image: Association Djibouti Nature/ Screenshot

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