New species of elephant-shrew found in Tanzania

2008-02-02 00:31:57 Xinhua English

BEIJING, Feb. 2 (Xinhuanet) -- First sighted scurrying across a forest floor in Tanzania in 2005, the elephant-shrew was an unidentified species until recently when scientists confirmed it as a new species of giant sengi.

They filmed the cat-size creature in March 2006 as it twitched its slender snout while searching for insect snacks in the Ndundulu Forest in Tanzania.

Easy to identify when seen, the elephant-shrew has a trunk-like nose, jet-black rump and weighs a little more than 1.5 pounds. It is 25 percent to 50 percent heavier than its closest relatives and its body extends an average of just under two feet (56 centimeters).

"This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career," said lead author of the new species description Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences. "From the moment I first lifted one of the animals into our photography tent, I knew it must be a new species ów not just because of its distinct coloring, but because it was so heavy."

In the 1970s, Rathbun first described the monogamous behavior of elephant-shrews, which maintain exclusive mating pairs. They got their nickname due to the animals' long, flexible snouts. But recent research has shown that elephant-shrews, also called sengis, are more closely related to elephants than to shrews.

With the addition of the new species, there are now four species of giant sengis identified and a total of 16 species of both giant and normal-size sengis.

Francesco Rovero of the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences in Italy first caught the new species on film in 2005 in the remote Ndundulu Forest in Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains. The next year, Rovero and his colleagues embarked on a two-week expedition, during which they captured four of the animals and made several observations to confirm the new species.

The recent research, published in the Feb. 4 issue of the Journal of Zoology, suggests the new species is confined to two high-altitude forest blocks in the mountains of south-central Tanzania.