In my current field site in the cape fynbos, I have been lucky enough to encounter a creature I have long desired to see. One of the smaller, and more intriguing members of an unusual grouping (Afrotheria) which includes rock hyraxes, sea cows, elephants and these little guys. Meet the elephant shrew:
An elephant shrew hanging out with a colourful Cordylid lizard
This fellow is a bush veld elephant shrew (Elephantulus intufi)
Now, whilst these photos are not mine, the videos provided here are:
In the first, a little demonstration of exactly how fast these creatures are. The behavior shown here was most likely in response to my presence as a potential predator. The shrew was probably checking to see where I was, as I'd been quiet for some time up to this point. The fellow you see here is a Cape Elephant Shrew (Elephantulus edwardi)
In this second video, you can just make a shrew out in the upper left, under the rock ledge and see that extraordinairy long nose. The snout is a highly sensitive probing appendage, used to detect their prey. To back it up, Ellie shrews have a long, sticky tongue which they can use to slurp up invertebrates, in much the same fashion as an anteater. Because of this, it can be a challenge for these animals to chew larger items, and they sometimes need to chew ‘sideways’ using their molars to shear pieces off pieces of large prey.
Wait, let's get back to the elephants…
Yup, whilst these tiny mammals were originally thought to belong to the order Insectivora, which includes true shrews and hedgehogs, they were subsequently reclassified into order Macroscelidea within the much weirder Afrotheria (the group including elephants and sea cows). There has been some argument for changing their common name from elephant shrews to sengis, to indicate this move away from true shrews. For me personally, the name elephant shrew works very well descriptively. You expect to see a mouse-like animal with an elephant-like snout and that's exactly what you get.
Colour me delighted
Catching these amazing little mammals on film has been my mission since I first saw them at the reserve I'm currently working in. These videos represent the 8th and 10th attempts respectively, with doubtless many more to come. I am hoping to get at least one of these animals comfortable enough with my presence that I can get a bit more of their natural behavior on camera to share here.
The other challenge lies in the fact that the outcrops these guys choose to shelter in, often look like this:
making it a bit of a technical challenge to sneak up on and film, the ever vigilant little Sengi!
This is also the very first time I've seen them myself. It is always a tremendously exciting feeling when you finally see an animal in person that you've only read about before. The elephant shrew is one that's been on my wish list for a long time. Given that they are so small and elusive, finding them can certainly be more challenging than spotting a lion or rhino, and whilst those iconic animals are always thrilling to see, as time passes you find yourself placing more special significance on chance encounters with rarer (and smaller) creatures.
Well, happy Steeming people, I hope you enjoyed this little peek into the life of this unusual animal!
The Wise Fox
Additional shrew facts:
Sengi images from wikimedia commons. Videos and field-site image are my own.