Elephant shrews are neither elephants nor shrews, and are more closely related to aardvarks

By Nicholas Rice
August 18, 2020 02:31 PM
Credit: Steven Heritage, Duke University Lemur Center

The Somali sengi, an elephant shrew that seemingly vanished the face of the Earth 52 years ago, has been rediscovered.

Scientists found the mouse-sized animal in the Horn of Africa after it had gone undocumented by researchers for over half a century, according to a report from The Guardian. Before now, the Somali sengi was last documented 52 years ago in 1962.

Per the report, scientists set out to search for the animal after locals were able to identify the creature from old photographs. There are 20 species of sengis in the world and the Somali sengi is one of the most mysterious, according to BBC.

Using the knowledge gained by the local people combined with what they knew of the animals, scientists were able to trap and observe the Somali sengi once more.

Scientists successfully trapped the creature by baiting the small animal with a mixture of peanut butter, oatmeal, and yeast. The catch was later identified as the Somali sengi by the tuft of fur on its tail, which distinguishes it from other sengi species.

"It was amazing," Steven Heritage, a research scientist at Duke University in the U.S., said. "When we opened the first trap and saw the little tuft of hair on the tip of its tail, we just looked at one another and couldn’t believe it."

The team set up more than 1,000 traps at multiple locations and saw 12 sengis in total, according to the publication. They were then able to obtain photographs and video of live Somali sengis for scientific documentation.

Elephant Shrew
| Credit: Steven Heritage, Duke University Lemur Center

"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 the Global Wildlife Conservation group.

Andrew Taylor, the chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s specialist group covering sengis, added: "In a single expedition to a part of Africa that is challenging to work in, the team has achieved remarkable success. Not only have they formally documented the continued existence of the Somali sengi for the first time in 50 years, they have also corrected our understanding of the species’ genus."

Elephant shrews are neither elephants nor shrews, and are more closely related to aardvarks, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

Per the website, the animals "take their name from their long pointed head and very long, mobile, trunk-like nose."

"Elephant shrews distribution is limited to highly fragmented forests, which limits their access to available resources and makes finding a mate more difficult, resulting in restricted populations," the site adds.