February 1, 2008

New Mammal Discovered in Tanzania

Although it has become a rare occurrence in the modern time, scientists recently reported the discovery of a new species of mammal in the Journal of Zoology.

The Rhynochocyon udzungwensis was recently found in Tanzania. The creature is a type of giant elephant shrew, or sengi, that looks like a cross between a miniature antelope and a small anteater, according to BBC News.

"This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career," said Galen Rathbun, from the California Academy of Sciences.

Rathbun, along with an international team of colleagues helped to confirm the animal was in fact a new species.

Like shrews, these small, furry mammals eat mostly insects by using their long, flexible snouts.

Despite being dubbed the "elephant shrew," the animal is not actually related to shrews. In fact, the creature is more closely related to a group of African mammals, which includes elephants, sea cows, aardvarks and hyraxes, having shared a common ancestor with them about 100 million years ago.

Dr Rathbun told the BBC: "Elephant shrews are only found in Africa. They were originally described as shrews because they had common attributes to shrews in Europe and in America."

In 2005, Francesco Rovero, from the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences in Italy, captured the first images of the creature, but it wasn't until March 2006 that Dr Rathburn traveled to collect specimen and confirm the discovery.

Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains are a biodiverse-rich "hotspot" where a number of other new animals have been discovered, such as the Udzungwa partridge, the Phillips' Congo shrew, and a new genus of monkey known as Kipunji

"They are all quite flashy - one species has a bright golden rump, another checkers along the rump - so when you have a color pattern that just isn't similar to what is out there, you know it is fairly obvious that you have got something new," Rathburn said. "And this one, with its grey face and black rump, was pretty different."

He noted they their behavior is relatively simple, but their physical attributes are captivating.

"They are so bizarre-looking and a lot of their behavioral ecology is so unique and interesting, you kind of get wrapped up with them," he said.

Scientists hope to discover more about the Rhynochocyon udzungwensis, such as how many exist, and how closely they live together.


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California Academy of Sciences