Re-Discovery of the Elephant Shrew in Djibouti

Elephant shrew (sengi) in Djibouti (source: Steven Heritage – BBC)

When I heard about the re-discovery of the elephant shrew, I wondered how could the elephant go missing and I didn’t hear about it? Since when? … then I realized that the elephant shrew was a sort of tiny rodent which is common on the horn of Africa; in the case at hand, it used to be common in Djibouti, but disappeared about 50 years ago. Not sure why it is called ‘elephant’ shrew. They say that it is related to the elephant, but how? Maybe the original scientist who said that had a little too much to drink? Or just looked at its pointed trunk-like nose and decided? Excerpts below are from an article on the BBC. As a side note, we really need to preserve our fauna (and flora), because we do not need a day when the elephant, the real one, will go missing

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A little-known mammal related to an elephant but as small as a mouse has been rediscovered in Africa after 50 years of obscurity.

Flag of Djibouti

The last scientific record of the “lost species” of elephant shrew was in the 1970s, despite local sightings.

The creature was found alive and well in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, during a scientific expedition.

Elephant shrews, or sengis [the name is of Somali origin], are neither elephants nor shrews, but related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees.

They have distinctive trunk-like noses, which they use to feast on insects.

There are 20 species of sengis in the world, and the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii) is one of the most mysterious, known to science only from 39 individuals collected decades ago and stored in museums. The species was previously known only from Somalia, hence its name.

Steven Heritage, a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in Durham, US, and a member of the expedition to the Horn of Africa in 2019, said he was thrilled to put the species “back on the radar”.

He told the BBC: …”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.”

The scientists had heard reports of sightings in Djibouti, and Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and conservationist who joined the trip, believed he had seen the animal before.

He said while people living in Djibouti never considered the sengis to be “lost” [seems like a case of ‘only Europeans discover things’ like Columbus and the Americas], the new research brings the Somali sengi 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.

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