SAN FRANCISCO (January 16, 2008) Although there is unquestionably much left to be discovered about life on Earth, charismatic animals like mammals are usually well documented, and it is rare to find a new species todayespecially from a group as intriguing as the elephant-shrews, monogamous mammals found only in Africa with a colorful history of misunderstood ancestry. Like shrews, these small, furry mammals eat mostly insects. Early scientists named them elephant-shrews not because they thought the animals were related to elephants but because of their long, flexible snouts. Ironically, recent molecular research has shown that they are actually more closely related to elephants than to shrews. Members of a supercohort called Afrotheria that evolved in Africa over 100 million years ago, their relatives include elephants, sea cows, and the aardvark. Until recently, only 15 species of elephant-shrews, also called sengis to avoid confusion with true shrews, were known to science. However, in March of 2006, Galen Rathbun of the California Academy of Sciences, Francesco Rovero of the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences, and a team of collaborators confirmed the existence of a new species that lives only in two high-altitude forest blocks in the mountains of south-central Tanzania. Their discovery will appear in the February 4 issue of The Journal of Zoology published by Wiley-Blackwell (available online on January 31).
This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career, said Rathbun, who has studied the ecology, social structure, and evolution of sengis for more than 30 years. It is the first new species of giant elephant-shrew to be discovered in more than 126 years. From the moment I first lifted one of the animals into our photography tent, I knew it must be a new speciesnot just because of its distinct coloring, but because it was so heavy! The new species, which has been named the grey-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis), weighs about 700 grams
|Contact: Stephanie Stone|