#Elephant-shrew species lost to science for more than 50 years rediscovered

#Elephant-shrew species lost to science for more than 50 years rediscovered

August 18, 2020 | 3:29pm

A tiny elephant-shrew species that had been lost to science for more than half a century has reappeared in the Horn of Africa, new research reveals.

The Somali sengi, a monogamous animal that is related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees but is only a few inches long, hadn’t been observed by scientists since 1968 and is one of the Global Wildlife Conservation group’s 25 most wanted species, according to a Tuesday press release by the group.

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists found the small mammals last year in Djibouti, according to a new paper in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

Although the species was previously known to only be from Somalia, the team of researchers had gotten tips that it could be in Djibouti. During interviews with the researchers, the local Djiboutian people were able to identify it from a series of photos.

The scientists set more than 1,200 traps at a dozen locations, baiting the animals with peanut butter, oatmeal and yeast. They captured a Somali sengi in the very first trap.

“It was amazing,” Steven Heritage, a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center and lead author on the paper, said in the release. “When we opened the first trap and saw the little tuft of hair on the tip of its tail, we just looked at one another and couldn’t believe it. A number of small mammal surveys since the 1970s did not find the Somali sengi in Djibouti — it was serendipitous that it happened so quickly for us.”

Somali Sengi

The Somali Sengi

Houssein Rayaleh, Association Dj

Somali Sengi

Scientists do fieldwork in Djibouti in search of the Somali Sengi.

Galen Rathbun, California Academy of Sciences

Somali Sengi

Steven Heritage, Duke University

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The team ended up finding a dozen sengis during the expedition and obtained the first-ever photos and video of the live animals for scientific documentation. There were no looming threats to their habitat.

“For us living in Djibouti, and by extension the Horn of Africa, we never considered the sengis to be ‘lost,’ but this new research does bring the Somali sengi back into the scientific community, which we value,” said Houssein Rayaleh from Association Djibouti Nature. “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.”

The rediscovery also sparked the stunning DNA finding that the Somali sengi’s lineage is most closely related to sengis that live as distant as Morocco and South Africa.

Another expedition is set for 2022 in which researchers will radio-tag individual sengis to answer specific questions about the animals’ lifestyle.

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