Scientists rediscover tiny elephant shrew species after 50 years

Have you ever heard of the mouse-sized elephant shrew? Neither had we, probably because it has been lost to science for 50 years.

The elephant shrew, also known as a Somali sengi, mates for life, can race around at 30km/h, and sucks up ants with its trunk-like nose. But it had not been documented by researchers since 1968. However, after receiving tips from people in Djibouti, Somalia’s neighboring country, scientists set out to find the animal in 2019. The team tapped into local knowledge, and the fact that the sengis need shelter from birds of prey, to set traps in likely locations, baiting them with a concoction of peanut butter, oatmeal, and yeast.

They caught a Somali sengi in the very first trap set in the dry, rocky, landscape, identifying it by the tuft of fur on its tail that distinguishes it from other sengi species. “It was amazing,” said Steven Heritage, a research scientist at Duke University in the US. “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 was happy not to witness any looming threats to the sengi’s habitat, which is largely unsuitable for human activities such as development or agriculture, suggesting a secure future for the creature.

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