September 22, 2010

New Giant Elephant Shrew Species Discovered

Researchers may have discovered a new species of the giant elephant shrew in a remote Kenyan forest.

The scientists said on Tuesday that they captured images of the shrew 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 told Reuters.

The animals are more closely related to elephants than shrews even though they are small.  They got their name because of their long, flexible, trunk-like nose.

Rathbun told Reuters that that the animals were captivating because of 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 every year in order to document biodiversity throughout 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.

Forests covered 12 percent of Kenya forty years ago, but now it is just 1.7 percent.  Reasons for the deforestation include greed, irresponsibility and mismanagement of public resources have been blamed for the degradation.

Sam Andanje from the KWS told Reuters that 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 told Reuters.


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