Researchers from the United States and the Republic of Djibouti have rediscovered this mini elephant known as the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii) more than 50 years after his last recording.
While this species, also called the Somali elephant shrew, is historically documented as endemic to Somalia, the new records come from the neighboring Republic of Djibouti and thus expand the species' known range in the Horn of Africa.
These creatures are predominantly insect eaters and they all have small bodies. They are large runners and some species are capable of moving at nearly 30 km / h and with leg ratios closer to gazelles than other small mammals.
Lesser-known species include the Somali sengi, which is known primarily from about 39 museum specimens but has been unrecorded since 1968.
How were they captured?
The researchers installed 1,259 traps in 12 locations in four administrative regions (Arta, Dikhil, Tadjourah and Ali Sabieh) of the Republic of Djibouti, in the north-west and adjacent to the north of Somalia. They recovered 263 spiny mice, 17 gerbils, one gundi and 8 Somali sengis.
“It was incredible. When we opened the first trap and saw the little tuft of hair on the tip of its tail, we looked at each other and couldn't believe it. ”Commented the study authors.
After some careful DNA and anatomical analysis of the captured animals, the team not only confirmed that the species was alive and well, but also found that scientists had misclassified it, likely due to insufficient data.
“This taxonomic problem is solved by recognizing a new genus replacement and a recombinant pairing that redesignates the Somali sengi as Galegeeska revoilii"Said the experts.
“An analysis of ancestral biogeography suggests that the Somali sengi have inhabited the Horn of Africa for more than 5.4 million years, and recognition of the phylogenetic ancestry of the species adds to the already remarkable biogeographic history of the Macroscelidini tribe.“.
Reference: S. Heritage et al. 2020. New records of a lost species and a geographic range expansion for sengis in the Horn of Africa. PeerJ 8: e9652; doi: 10.7717 / peerj.9652
By Sarah Romero