Grey-faced Sengi, Rhynchocyon udzungwensis

The grey-faced Sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is an elephant shrew that is native to south-central Tanzania, specifically the Udzungwa Mountains. It was found in 2005, in a small area of the Udzungwa Mountains, the Ndundulu Forest. This discovery was considered monumental, as there had been no discoveries of any new elephant shrew species for over a century. The grey-faced sengi occurs in two known populations, within a very small area of its habitat reaching 120 square miles. It resides within wet montane and sub-montane forests and even bamboo thickets.

Francesco Rovero, of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Trento, Italy, first discovered the grey-faced sengi while capturing photographs, using photo traps. Rovero sent the pictures he captured of the unknown elephant shrew to Galen Rathbun, of the California Academy of Sciences,  who could not identify the shrew either. The two set out on a two-week expedition to capture specimens of the grey-faced elephant shrew in March 2006. The zoologists were surprised to see that it was raining in a supposed dry season. When they located the unidentified shrew, they discovered that it was much larger than estimated, and so they had to assemble twine snare traps to obtain specimens. In 2008, Rathbun and Rovero, along with their associates, produced a paper with the formal description of the grey-faced elephant shrew in the British Journal of Zoology.

The grey-faced sengi is larger than other species of elephant shrew, with an average body length of 22.2 inches and an average weight of 1.5 pounds. Its thin fur is red in color and bears a long, maroon strip on the dorsal area and a tannish brown color on the underbelly and tail. The face has greyish fur, and the hindquarters are black in color. It is thought that the average population size can be up to eighty individuals, with one male and female occurring in a group.  Nests are built from leaves and soil and each sengi couple can produce one or two infants after mating.

It is thought that because the grey-faced sengi occurs in such small numbers, any form of habitat destruction could negatively affect their numbers. Although indirect, forest fires started by humans could affect these shrews, and it is thought that hunting may also pose a problem, although there is no evidence of this from Rovero and Rathbun’s expedition. Although little is known about the ecology and habits of this sengi, the IUCN was able to give it a conservation status of “Vulnerable”.

Fortunately, conservation efforts are being made to save the habitat of the grey-faced sengi, as well as many other rare species. The range of this shrew occurs within two protected wildlife areas, the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre, and this helps to protect it from hunting and deliberate habitat destruction. Conservationists have reached out to public by teaching locals of the importance of the natural habitat to the grey-faced sengi, and this may also help lower the risk of decreasing population numbers. Other conservation efforts include monitoring efforts that are taught to university students, park rangers, schools, and scientists in order to preserve the natural habitat of the grey-faced sengi and other local creatures.

Image Caption: Rhynochocyon udzungwensis new mammal photography. Credit: Wikipedia