SCIENCE

New Elephant Shrew Species Found in Kenya

This camera-trap photograph shows the potentially new species of elephant shrew in Kenya.

This camera-trap photograph shows the potentially new species of elephant shrew in Kenya.  (Zoological Society of London)

Researchers may have discovered a previously unknown species of the giant elephant shrew -- a small mammal with a nose like a trunk -- in a remote Kenyan forest.

They said on Tuesday they captured images of the rat-sized animal on camera-traps in the Boni-Dodori forest along Kenya's northeastern coast while they were researching biodiversity.

"It is believed to be a new species of giant sengi, otherwise known as an elephant shrew (Macroscelidea)," the conservationists from the Zoological Society of London and the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) scientists said in a statement.

"Once DNA samples have been collected, we look forward to conducting the genetic analysis required to determine whether or not this is indeed a new species of elephant shrew," Galen Rathbun from the California Academy of Sciences said.

The animals are more closely related to elephants than shrews despite their size, and got their name because of their long, flexible, trunk-like nose.

Rathbun said the animals were captivating due to their ancient and often misunderstood ancestry, their monogamous mating, and their flexible snouts used to forage for food.

The academy's research scientists launch dozens of expeditions each year to document biodiversity around the world.

"It is always exciting to describe a new species ... a necessary precursor for ensuring that the animals are protected," he said in the statement.

Forty years ago, forests covered 12 percent of Kenya, but now it is just 1.7 percent. Greed, irresponsibility and mismanagement of public resources have been blamed for the degradation.
Sam Andanje from the KWS said the discovery underlined the significance of conserving isolated forests in Kenya.

"Unfortunately, they are highly threatened by ongoing, rapid coastal development and there is now an urgent need for an effective management plan," he said.