Elephant-shrews spotted for the first time in 52 years in Africa

Hyperaxion Aug 19, 2020

Researchers found 12 elephant-shrews, or Somali sengi, in Djibouti.

Scientists from the United States and Djibouti recently announced the rediscovery of the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii), also known as elephant-shrew.

Elephant-shrews spotted for the first time in 52 years in Africa
(Credit: Steven Heritage, Duke University Lemur Center).

The last time the species was seen was in 1968, and it has become one of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s most wanted lost species. The article reporting the rediscovery was published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

The animal was photographed and filmed for the first time in 2019, during a scientific expedition in Djibouti, an African country where researchers had previously found clues that indicated the presence of the species, which is originally from Somalia.

“For us living in Djibouti, and by extension the Horn of Africa, we never considered the sengis to be ‘lost,’ but this new research does bring the Somali sengi back into the scientific community,” said Houssein Rayaleh, from Association Djibouti Nature and co-author of the study. “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.”

To find the Somali Sengi, the researchers placed 1,259 traps with a mixture of peanut butter, oatmeal, and yeast at 12 locations. In total, 12 individuals of the species were sighted.

The habitat in which the Somali sengi lives is dry and inhospitable for human activities, such as agriculture, so it is unlikely that the species will suffer from habitat loss.

As the species is distributed between Somalia and Djibouti and has an abundance rate similar to that of other sengis, scientists recommended to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) that the conservation status of the animal be updated to “Least Concern”.

“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, one of the GWC’s Search for Lost Species program leads. “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.”

Thanks to the rediscovery, the scientists were able to analyze the animal’s DNA and found that they are closely related to the sengis of Morocco and South Africa.

(Credit: Steven Heritage, Duke University Lemur Center).

Somali sengis are distant relatives of aardvark, elephants, and manatees, despite their small size.

They usually stay with a single partner (monogamous) and feed on insects with their long nose, hence the nickname elephant-shrew.

Before the 2019 expedition, only 39 specimens were known, as they had been collected and preserved for centuries in museums. Now, with the rediscovery, scientists are already planning a second expedition in 2022 to further study the species.


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