Found shrew! Long lost Somali elephant shrew rediscovered

Known as a sengi, tiny species was feared extinct for almost 50 years
elephant shrew There you are! The long-lost, now found, Somali sengi. (AFP/Steven Heritage/Duke University/Global Wildlife Conservation)

It's big world out there, and biologists estimate that it is full of animals we still don't even know about yet. Millions of them.

So we can't be surprised that a few species escape our detection—even if we had already found them once before. This is the case of the Somali elephant shrew, or sengi (say SEHN-gee). This tiny mammal, known to roam through the African nation of Somalia, was feared near extinction and hadn't been seen alive since the 1970s. The only evidence that it had existed at all was a selection of preserved specimens found in museum collections.

And then suddenly, it was alive and on camera!


Djibouti Somalia

The species was found in the small nation of Djibouti, on the northern border of Somalia and Ethiopia. (Google Maps)

The chance encounter didn't occur in Somalia. Instead, it was in the tiny neighbouring country of Djibouti.

Biologists had heard locals talk about seeing sengis regularly. But no one had officially captured one—whether alive or on camera—in decades. And therefore, no one knew if it was actually the long-lost Somali sengi species. So in 2019, a research team set up 1,250 live traps across Djibouti. (These traps capture specimens without harming them.)

Loaded with oatmeal and peanut butter, the researchers hoped their traps would prove irresistible to any sengis out there. And they were right. Not just one, but 12 sengis were caught. And close investigation confirmed what the researchers were hoping—these were indeed the Somali elephant shrew!

Not just surviving, but thriving

The end result of this research means more than just the fact that the Somali sengi is not extinct. It means that it is thriving.

This expedition never would have been able to find so many of these animals unless there were a lot of sengis out there. Pretty cool news—going from 'maybe extinct' to 'healthy and doing awesome' in a year! Way to go, sengis!

But when it comes to the small and shy animals of planet Earth, you never really know what's out there until you look extra hard. Celebrate this cute critter's magic return by watching it in the video below!

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