Academy of Sciences researcher investigates sengi species 

California Academy of Sciences researcher Galen Rathbun recently returned from Namibia, where he investigated a potentially unknown species of sengi.

What is a sengi? When they were first discovered a couple hundred years ago in Africa, they were thought to be a type of shrew. Since they’re larger than most shrews, they were called elephant shrews.

Why was their name changed? With the advent of molecular genetics, it was discovered that they were not even closely related to the true shrews. A lot of us said, “Let’s use one of the African names.”

What are sengis related to? They’re purely African, and if you must look for the closest relatives, they’re elephants, sea cows and aardvarks.

How do you catch them? Because they’re little anteaters, they eat termites and ants and bugs in the soil with a long flicking tongue, and they’re really not attracted to bait. So we set up box traps along the paths that they use.

What do you do with sengis? If we’re going to describe a new species, we need not only the DNA but we need some specimens so we can look at the skull and skin, which is important in mammals. Once we have enough, we just take a tip of the skin off and let the animal go.

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John Upton

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