Be Smart About South Africa

The Return of a Lost Species

A mouse-sized elephant shrew that had been lost to science for 50 years has been discovered alive and well in the Horn of Africa. The 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.  In 2019 scientists set out to search for the animal following tips from the region, but not in Somalia, from where the only past reports had come, but in neighbouring Djibouti. Locals were able to identify the creature from old photographs. 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. The team set more than 1,000 traps at multiple locations and saw 12 sengis in total, obtaining the first photos and video of live Somali sengis for scientific documentation. DNA analysis showed that the Somali sengis are most closely related to other sengis that live as far away as Morocco and South Africa. This meant they have now been placed in a new genus, Galegeeska. It also meant that that an animal with a territory smaller than an average-sized backyard has somehow dispersed across great distances over time, leaving biologists with a new sengi evolutionary mystery to solve.


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