Adorably weird elephant-shrew rediscovered after 50 years lost to science

The tiny Somali sengi is related to aardvarks, elephants and manatees.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

This is the first ever photo of a live Somali sengi for scientific documentation.

Steven Heritage/Duke University Lemur Center

The scientific community knew Somali sengi elephant-shrews once roamed parts of Africa. There were examples -- some gathered hundreds of years ago -- in museum collections. It's just that no scientist had logged one in the wild since the late 1960s.

Good news for elephant-shrews: The Somali sengi is alive and well in Djibouti, and there's plenty of proof.

Conservation group Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) announced the rediscovery of the "romantically monogamous" Somali sengi on Tuesday. The elephant-shrew was on the organization's 25 Most Wanted Lost Species list.

GWC released the first scientific documentation of a live Somali sengi in the form of a photo showing the mouse-like animal standing on some rocks. The insect-eater has a trunk-like nose and is more closely related to elephants than actual shrews.

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This Somali sengi is back on the scientific books.

Houssein Rayaleh/Association Djibouti Nature

The research team caught an elusive Somali sengi in a trap baited with peanut butter, oatmeal and yeast. 

"It was amazing," Duke University Lemur Center research scientist Steven Heritage said in a statement. "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," 

Association Djibouti Nature research ecologist Houssein Rayaleh was aware the Somali sengi was still out there. "For us living in Djibouti, and by extension the Horn of Africa, we never considered the sengis to be 'lost,'" he said in a Q&A with GWC. "But this new research does bring the Somali sengi back into the scientific community, which we value."

Rayaleh is co-author of a paper on the sengis published in the journal PeerJ on Tuesday. Heritage is the lead author.

The Somali sengis appeared to be safe in their habitat, a range that crosses from Somalia to Djibouti. The research team has recommended the small mammals be granted a "least concern" status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

"For Djibouti," said Rayaleh, "it 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."