Tiny Elephant Shrew Species Missing For 50 Years Reappears In East Africa
A tiny elephant shrew species has been rediscovered in the Horn of Africa after 50 years.
The mouse-sized species, called the Somali sengi, became a ‘lost species’ following its last scientific recording in 1968 – in spite of local sightings, which ultimately were never confirmed.
Until now, with the adorable little creature having been found alive and well in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, during a scientific expedition.
Check it out below:
There are currently 20 species of elephant shrew in the world, with the Somali sengi being one of the most mysterious. Not only has it not been scientifically documented for more than five decades, but even then it was only known to science because 39 of the animals had been collected decades ago and stored in museums.
Related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees, the Somali sengi mates for life, can run up to 30 kilometres per hour and has a distinctive trunk-like nose, which it uses to suck up ants. The species was previously only found in Somalia, hence the name.
Scientists were so intrigued by the species that last year, they set out to search for the animal in Djibouti after receiving tips from locals that they had been spotted there. The team then tapped into local knowledge, as well as their own, to set traps in locations they would expect the creature to visit.
After baiting them with a mixture of peanut butter, oatmeal and yeast, the researchers caught a Somali sengi in the very first trap set in the area.
Steven Heritage, a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in the US, was a member of the group that went to the Horn of Africa in 2019 and said he was thrilled to put the species ‘back on the radar’.
He told the BBC:
We were really excited and elated when we opened the first trap that had an elephant shrew in it, a Somali sengi.
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.
Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and conservationist who joined the trip, said that while people living in Djibouti never considered the Somali sengis to be ‘lost’ as scientists did, their discovery brings the animal back into the scientific community, which is valued.
‘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,’ he said.
Now, the scientists plan to launch another expedition in 2022 to GPS radio-tag individual sengis to study their behaviour and ecology, with the team happy to report there are currently no obvious threats to the creature’s habitat.
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