– Scientific Classification –
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Infraclass: Eutheria
- Superorder: Afrotheria
- Order: Macroscelidea
- Family: Macroscelididae
- Genus: 4 different genera – Rynchocyon, Petrodromus, Macroscelides, Elephantulus
Elephant shrews, also known as sengis, are small mammals that do not even classify as shrews. They were named for their trunk-like nose and have been found to be more closely related to the group of African mammals which includes elephants, hyraxes, sea cows, aardvarks, and tenrecs. Within the single family, Macroscelididae, there are four genera and 19 living species. Elephant Shrews are diurnal and feed almost the entire day on invertebrates. They have a gland on the underside of their tail that produces a scent with which they mark their territories. Since they are seldom with other elephant shrews the scent comes in handy for keeping track of one another. They form pairs to defend their territory and do so violently.
With a lifespan of only 3 to 4 years, they can have four or five offspring a year and can lactate and gestate simultaneously. Gestation is under 2 months. The fully haired newborn is hidden for about 3 weeks, follows its mother for a week and is allowed to stay in its parent’s territory for 6 weeks before it must go off to establish its own. This period of time is the most vulnerable for the young elephant shrew.
The elephant shrew may be used as a food source for humans, but its biggest threat is the habitat in which most of the population is found. The fragmented forests make mate searches difficult and limits access to resources. Elephant shrews are also a target of reptiles and birds of prey.
You can check out the speedy elephant shrew in action in this clip from LIFE: