After 50 years, a small elephant shrew species have been unearthed in the Horn of Africa.
The Somali sengi, a mouse-sized animal, became a ‘lost species’ after its final scientific recording in 1968, despite local sightings that were never substantiated.
Until today, when the cute tiny critter was discovered alive and well during a research trip in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa. There are now 20 elephant shrew species around the globe, with the Somali sengi being one of the most enigmatic. Not only has it not been scientifically recorded for more than five decades, but it was only known to science because 39 of the creatures were captured and housed in museums decades ago.
The Somali sengi, which is related to aardvarks, elephants, and manatees, mates for life, can sprint up to 30 kilometers per hour and has a peculiar trunk-like nose that it uses to suck up ants. Previously, the species was only found in Somalia, thus the name.
Scientists were so interested in the species that they went out to find it in Djibouti last year after obtaining indications from locals that it had been observed there. The team then used local expertise as well as their own to place traps in areas where they expected the monster to appear. The researchers captured a Somali sengi in the first trap put in the region after baiting it with peanut butter, oats, and yeast.
Steven Heritage, a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center in the United States, was part of the group that traveled to the Horn of Africa in 2019 and said he was ecstatic to put the species “back on the radar.” Houssein Rayaleh, a Djiboutian research ecologist and environmentalist who attended the expedition, stated that while people in Djibouti did not consider the Somali sengis to be ‘lost,’ experts did, and their finding brings the species back into the scientific community, which cherished.
‘This is a significant tale for Djibouti because it showcases the country’s and the region’s rich biodiversity and demonstrates that there are chances for new science and study here,’ he added.
The scientists now hope to conduct another trip in 2022 to GPS radio-tag individual sengis in order to research their behavior and ecology, with the team pleased to note that there are no evident dangers to the creature’s environment at the moment.