Largest Elephant Shrew Discovered in Africa

January 31, 2008

An elephant among elephant shrews has been found in remote forests in East Africa, scientists announced today.

The previously unknown, squirrel-size species is the world's largest known elephant shrew and the only new species from the group to be discovered in more than a century, wildlife researchers say.

Weighing about 1.5 pounds (700 grams), the gray-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is up to 50 percent heavier than the next largest species of elephant shrew, according to the study team that named the long-snouted creature.

The animal was first identified in 2005 by motion-sensing cameras set up in the Udzungwa Mountains of south-central Tanzania by Francesco Rovero of the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences in Italy.

That expedition was led by Duke University's Thomas Struhsaker and was funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

The 2005 photos showed a giant species that looked very different from known elephant shrews, Rovero said.

"I realized that we might have found something really exciting," said Rovero, who has spent the last six years studying forest animals in the region.

But a full announcement had to wait until firsthand verification of the animal's existence—which came during a 2006 expedition led by Rovero and Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences.

Forest Expedition

The team tracked the new mammal down in two areas of high-altitude forest and captured live specimens, even though they were too big for the traps the team had taken along for the job, Rovero said.

Instead, the researchers relied on local hunting methods, using traditional snares made of twine.

"We got four of them this way," Rovero said.

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