Scientists say they have rediscovered in Africa a small creature related to the elephant that disappeared about 50 years ago.
The mouse-sized animal, called the Somali sengi, is also known as an elephant-shrew. It is distantly related to elephants, aardvarks and manatees.
Researchers say sightings of the Somali sengi species had not been reported for at least 50 years.
But a search team led last year by international wildlife experts found that the animals were alive and well in the small East African country of Djibouti. The team recently reported its results in the publication PeerJ.
Although the species was only known to live in Somalia, the researchers had received information that it might also be in Djibouti.
Scientists thought the Somali sengi had disappeared in the 1970s. There are only 39 individual specimens held in natural history museums around the world. Those individuals were the only physical evidence that the animal had ever existed.
The Global Wildlife Conservation group had included the Somali sengi on its “25 most wanted lost species” list.
Houssein Rayaleh is with the Association Djibouti Nature. He helped lead the search operation. In Djibouti, he said they met local people who were able to identify the animal from pictures.
Rayaleh said he too had seen sengis during his 21 years of doing fieldwork in the country. But he and other researchers could never make an official identification. “Without formal documentation, the species of the sengis in Djibouti was unknown,” he told the French news agency AFP.
The team set up more than 1,250 traps filled with peanut butter, oatmeal and yeast in 12 places. The researchers reported they caught a Somali sengi in the first trap they set.
“It was amazing,” said Steven Heritage, a researcher with Duke University’s Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina. “When we opened the first trap and saw the little tuft of hair on the tip of its tail, we just looked at one another and couldn’t believe it.”