Tiny Elephant Relative Rediscovered in Africa

Photo: John P. Dumbacher

A tiny mammal related to the elephant which was on the Lost Species list for over 50 years has been rediscovered by scientists, the find occuring in a completely different geographical area to where it previously existed. 

The Somali Sengi, a palm sized, furry mammal with a trunk-like nose, is particularly interesting for its relationship to the elephant and other long nosed mammals despite its physical resemblance to a mouse. The scientists conducting this research (published in PeerJ) were amazed to come across the species again, especially in this particular area in the Horn of Africa instead of Somalia, where it was previously recorded to be in the 1970’s. 

The team of scientists, which includes Duke University Researcher Steven Heritage, set up over 1000 traps with sweet baits that would stand out in the desert of Africa to establish local populations. Once caught and identified, scientists started to gain information on their habitat range, DNA sequences, probable locations, and measurements.

The DNA analysis has created taxonomic problems as the species was previously classified as Elephantulus revoilii, but the genus does not align with the species lineage to the family Macroscelidea. As such, the team of scientists have recommended renaming the species under the genus Galegeeska, to recognize its accurate phylogeny. This error is likely due to the little research kept on the species, illuminating the significance of further studies.

Uniquely, the species has an unexpected combination of traits both behaviorally and physically. Elongated hind limbs enable the Somali Sengi to move relatively quickly, up to 30 kilometers/hour. In proportion to their body size, these hind limbs also set them apart from a mouse, where they more closely resemble antelopes or gazelles.

Also peculiar is the species’ monogamous, long breeding nature. Monogamy is relatively rare in animals, so this observation will be researched further in an effort to understand their behavioral and reproductive nature. With greater insight about the way the species reproduce, scientists can more successfully work towards their conservation. The characteristics seen in the Somali Sengi are a mix of interesting behaviors and characteristics typically seen in larger mammals, making them exciting subjects for future studies.

The Somali Sengi’s new geography has already been insightful news to researchers, showing that there is probably a lot more to learn about the species. There is overall very little information on the species, so the first steps to ensuring their survival is to replenish databases with research on living populations. 

This account of the Somali Sengi is inspiring and gives hope to all researchers, environmentalists and explorers alike, demonstrating that it is possible for species to be rediscovered, sometimes where you would least expect to find them.

For The Yucatan Times
Isabella Fix

Isabella Fix is a freelance writer whose work focuses on social and environmental issues.



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