This African Mouse Has a Penchant for Peanut Butter!

Once thought endangered, scientists discover the elephant shrew is alive and well.

Sep 8, 2020

If you cross an elephant with a gazelle and a mouse, what would you get? A Somali elephant shrew, of course! Posted on the Global Wildlife Conservation’s Most-Wanted List, this cute animal has recently been found in the Horn of Africa. And, as scientists discovered, this species is flourishing.

Also known as the sengi, this mouse-sized animal lives in the arid, rugged terrain of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Although locals know about it, there has been no scientific information about this animal with the exception of a few dozen specimens in museums labeled Elephantulus revoilii, according to Duke Today.

As it was last seen in the 1970s, it was listed in the Lost Species Initiative run by the Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC). In 2019, researcher Steve Heritage from Duke Lemur Center, accompanied by biologists, headed out to Djibouti to investigate this mysterious mouse.

Dubbed “charismatic microfauna,” Heritage told CNN that this is a scientific way of describing an adorable little animal. And adorable they are. The sengi have long rubbery snouts they use to unearth ants and termites, their favorite food. They have long hind legs whose proportions are more akin to an antelope or a gazelle, enabling them to run over 18 miles per hour. They are monogamous and pair for life.

They are also inquisitive and the sengis’ heightened sense of smell has proven to outwit them. Heritage knew that if he were to locate a sengi, it just may have to involve peanut butter. Heritage and his colleagues set 1,259 traps in 12 locations baited with oatmeal and peanut butter. These were a hit for the curious long-nosed critters for they caught not one but eight, as reported by Duke Today.

Not only did the scientists learn that this animal is more common than previously thought, they realized it had been misclassified. When they published their research in PeerJ this past August, they redesignated its genus, calling it Galegeeska revoilii. Heritage wants to return to Djibouti to place radio tags on a few of the more curious sengi so he can learn about their habitat and behavior.

Says Robin Moore from the GWC, “This is a welcome and wonderful rediscovery during a time of turmoil for our planet, and one that fills us with renewed hope for the remaining small mammal species on our most wanted list.” And as scientists now know that sengi thrive in areas where there is no human population, this animal has no risk of dwindling habitat.

Scientists and nature lovers can be assured that this species is alive and well. Thankfully the charismatic microfauna has been reallocated from the “data deficient” column of the conservation list to that of “least concern.”

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.