Page 3 Profile: Round-eared elephant shrew, new species of mammal


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The Independent Online

I’m sorry, the what?

Yes, you heard correctly. Scientists claim they have found a mouse-like creature with a nose shaped like an elephant’s trunk. This unusual specimen has been seen in a remote desert in Namibia by two researchers from the California Academy of Sciences. Jack Dumbacher and Galen Rathbun made the discovery while undertaking research in south‑western Africa.

What are they going to call it… a molephant?

Actually, the newly discovered species is known as an “elephant shrew”, or Macroscelides. “Think about crossing a miniature antelope and an anteater,” Dr Rathbun said when trying to describe the essence of the 9cm creature.

Any other defining features?

Yes, at the moment you’ll only find this creature in Africa. It eats termites and insects like an anteater. Scientists say it is particularly unusual as it is entirely monogamous. And its reproductive capabilities are rather impressive: the elephant shrew mainly gives birth to twins or triplets, which are covered in fur and ready to run from the moment they’re born.

How did they remain undetected for so long – was it playing hide and squeak?

Scientists think it was simply invisible to humans because of the difficulties in conducting field research in such isolated areas. Plus the climate of the desert is thought to have made it difficult for the creature to  even survive.

Wait, is this the first of many similar discoveries?

Genetically the elephant shrew is very different from other members of its family. There are currently 17 known species of elephant shrew, and the guess is there could be more unusual discoveries ahead...