(AFP) – Jan 30, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — In a rare discovery of a new species of mammal, zoologists on Thursday said they had identified a shrew-like creature called a grey-faced sengi living in a small community in remote Tanzania.
Sengis -- small, furry, insect-eating mammals that live on forest floors -- are also called elephant-shrews.
Until now, only 15 species of sengis were known, but this one is truly exceptional, the proud investigators said.
The newcomer, dubbed Rhynchocyon udzungwensis, stands head and shoulders above his cousins, weighing in at a massive 700 grammes (1.5 pounds), about 25 percent larger than any other known sengi.
He was identified by scientists Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences and Francesco Rovero of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Trento, Italy. Their discovery is published in the February issue of the British-based Journal of Zoology.
"This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career," Rathbun, a 30-year veteran of sengi-watching, said in a press release.
"It is the first new species of giant elephant-shrew to be discovered in more than 126 years. From the moment I first lifted one of the animals into our photography tent, I knew it must be a new species -- not just because of its distinct colouring, but because it was so heavy!"
R. udzungwensis has "a distinctive grey face and a jet-black lower rump," said the press release, issued by the California Academy of Sciences.
So far, only two populations of the new species are known to exist, holing up in about 300 square kilometres (115 square miles) of forest.
The new species was first caught on film in 2005 thanks to a camera trap set up by Rovero in the Ndundulu forest in Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains.
In March 2006, he and Rathbun returned there for a two-week expedition in which they captured four animals, using traditional twine snares, and made 40 observations.
Elephant-shrews are monogamous animals that live only in Africa.
They owe their name to early scientists who thought they were shrews and gave them the elephant name because of their long, flexible snouts.
Ironically, recent molecular tests showed that they are more closely related to elephants than to shrews, being members of a mammal group called Afrotheria, which evolved in Africa more than 100 million years ago.
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