Tiny Elephant Shrew Resurfaces After More Than 50 Years On Lost Species List The mouse-size Somali sengi — a kind of elephant shrew with a pointy nose and large, adorable eyes — was thought to be a lost species. Researchers recently spotted the creature in Djibouti.
NPR logo

Tiny Elephant Shrew Resurfaces After More Than 50 Years On Lost Species List

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/905350284/905350285" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tiny Elephant Shrew Resurfaces After More Than 50 Years On Lost Species List

Tiny Elephant Shrew Resurfaces After More Than 50 Years On Lost Species List

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/905350284/905350285" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now we have news of a tiny animal that was lost to scientists for half a century and recently found again. It's called an elephant shrew. Now, that name is deceiving because this isn't an elephant, nor is it a shrew. The little creature can be described like this.

STEVEN HERITAGE: It's a teeny tiny relative of an aardvark and an elephant that's the size of a mouse.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Steven Heritage, a Duke University researcher who worked on the expedition, says another name for the creature is the Somali sengi, although it was not found in Somalia but rather in neighboring Djibouti. The Somalis sengi can fit in the palm of your hand. It's got a pointy nose and these large, adorable eyes.

HERITAGE: In science, we call them charismatic microfauna, which in lay speak translates to cute little animal.

INSKEEP: Glad there's a scientific term for that. Now the last time the creature was documented by researchers was 1968, so it's been a minute. There's a lot to catch up on.

HERITAGE: We know now that it is for sure a rock-dwelling sengi. It didn't have to be that. We know that it has foot-drumming behavior as one of its communication behaviors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENGI FOOT-DRUMMING)

HERITAGE: So we have some basic knowledge now.

INSKEEP: People also have that foot-drumming communication, don't they? Heritage's teammate from Djibouti, Houssein Rayaleh, hopes this news will bring more conservation efforts to the country.

HOUSSEIN RAYALEH: Now the international community will have an - eyes on our biodiversity. And this is - the importance of this is auspicious for us.

GREENE: Though some information about the Somali sengi is relatively new, it has a really long history.

HERITAGE: This is an endemic lineage of African mammals that has a history on the African continent that goes back at least 45 million years, possibly much longer. And we know that it shares a common ancestor with the elephants and the aardvarks and golden moles and tenrecs. And these are really the true endemic African mammals with a long lineage. All these other mammals that end up in Africa with, you know, lions and giraffes and zebras, they don't appear until after the Miocene about 20 million years ago.

GREENE: The Somali sengi can now be taken off the Global Wildlife Conservation's list of lost species.

(SOUNDBITE OF REICHPOP'S "WILD NOTHING")

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.