It is hard to believe that such an unusual looking animal has remained hidden for so long. Scientists have just discovered a new species of elephant shrew or round eared sengi in the remote deserts of south western Africa.
This is the third new species of sengi to be discovered in the past decade. It is also the smallest known member of the 19 sengis in the order Macroscelidea. The team’s discovery and description of the Etendeka round-eared sengi (Macroscelides micus) is published this week in the Journal of Mammalogy.
Michael Griffin from the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism was the first person who found member from this species.
While it is the smallest known member of the 19 sengis in the order Macroscelidea, the small creature is in fact genetically more closely related to an elephant than a true shrew. The Etendeka round-eared sengi or Macroscelides micus was discovered by scientists from the California Academy of Sciences.
While collecting and examining sengi specimens from southwestern Africa, experts Jack Dumbacher and Galen Rathbun encountered an unusual specimen collected in the remote northwestern region of Namibia that differed in appearance from any of the museum specimens that they had examined previously. The specimen was significantly smaller, had rust-colored fur, a large, hairless gland on the underside of its tail and lacked dark skin pigment. Preliminary genetic analysis also showed important differences between this specimen and close relatives.
The short-eared elephant shrew weighs between one and 1.5 ounces and has a body length of about four inches. Its fur is gray brown with a white underside. Its nostrils are at the tip of a flexible snout. They are basically found in Namibia, southern Botswana and the cape of south Africa. These elephant shrews burrow into sandy soil in arid semi-desert, dry grass or shrubland.
Sengis are restricted to Africa and despite their small size, are more closely related to elephants, sea cows and aardvarks than they are to true shrews. Found in a remote area of Namibia, scientists believe this new species went undescribed for so long because of the challenges of doing scientific research in such an isolated area. Yet it is precisely this isolation and the unique environmental conditions in the region that have given rise to this and other endemic organisms.
“We hope to learn more about this in coming field seasons, where we plan to radio-collar some of these small sengis and study their activities and spatial movements,” Dumbacher said.
The little sengi is described this week in the Journal of Mammalogy.