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Shrew Knew

March 25, 2023

Shrew Knew

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Natalie Ingle Natalie Ingle

The English speakers who named the elephant shrew thought it was a kind of shrew with a nose resembling an elephant’s trunk. The joke’s on them, however, as this creature turned out merely to resemble a shrew but actually is a distant relative of the elephant.

I think its Swahili name, sengi, suits it much better, and this particular species — the black and rufous sengi (Rhynchocyon petersi) — lives in the forests and woodlands of Kenya and Tanzania, using its flexible nose to feed under fallen leaves. Even though it’s smaller than a breadbox, this species is considered a giant among its peers and is known for being aggressively territorial.

I wouldn’t have guessed that when spotting this individual on a quiet walk among the towering mahogany trees of Zanzibar’s Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. Although these sengis are diurnal and not particularly endangered, it felt like a serendipitous encounter, and this one stood perfectly still for a few moments while I captured this photo.

While the park is known for its habituated Zanzibar red colobus and tourists flock to see the animated, wild-haired primates up close, I felt like I’d stepped into another universe altogether—one in which the small is mightier than you’d ever guess and a little bit of quiet is rewarded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March.

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