A tiny elephant shrew has been “rediscovered” after being “lost to science” for approximately 50 years. The species of elephant shrew is called a Somali sengi (or Elephantulus revoilii) and it’s related to elephants, manatees, and aardvarks even though it’s not considered to be an elephant or a shrew.
The small animal, which has a long nose, big round eyes and a fur tuft on its tail, has not been spotted in about 50 years and the only information that experts had on it came from 39 previously found specimens that are currently safely located in several different museums. The Somali sengi is also one of Global Wildlife Conservation’s 25 most wanted lost species.
But with a little luck and some “treats”, the tiny mammal made an appearance in the East African country of Djibouti. After getting some tips that the mammal was present in Djibouti, a team of scientists from that country as well as the United States set up 1,259 traps at 12 locations in hopes of finding it. They put peanut butter, yeast, and oatmeal inside of the traps and they quickly caught one of the animals. In fact, they found a total of 12 Somali sengis.
The animal had previously only been spotted in Somalia so this news was pretty exciting for the experts. “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,” said Houssein Rayaleh who is a research ecologist and conservationist with the nonprofit organization Association Djibouti Nature as well as a co-author of the study.
The species was discovered near rocky outcrops with very little vegetation where humans don’t normally go which is a good thing for the Somali sengis as they wouldn’t experience much destruction to their habitat.
Robin Moore, who is one of GWC's Search for Lost Species program leads, said in the statement, “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,” adding, “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.” A couple more pictures of the Somali sengi can be seen here.
If you’re thinking that this story sounds a little familiar, you’re right. Back in 2014, my co-worker wrote an article on another sengi species called Macroscelides micus that was discovered in the northwestern part of Namibia (his article can be read here). Actually at that time, it was fourth new elephant shrew species that the researchers had found since 2005. And with this most recent discovery of the Elephantulus revoilii, we can add another new species to the list.