What is a short-eared elephant-shrew?
Short-eared elephant-shrews are small shrew-like looking animals, which belong to an own order of mammals (Macroscelidea).
The sientific name of the animals is Macroscelides proboscideus ("macroscelides" Greek: with long femur, "proboscis" Latin: trunk), synonyms are "Round-eared Elephant-Shrew" and "Jumping Shrew". Recently the name "sengi" is used more often for elephant-shrews, especially to distinguish them from the "real" shrews (Soricidae).
Adult short-eared elephant-shrews can reach a total size up to 23 cm, the tail makes up about 12 cm. With this size the animals are the smallest elephant-shrews. Adults weigh about 40g on an average.
The fur of the animals is dense and very soft, brown coloured on the upper body side and white on the ventral side. But only the tips of the hairs are coloured, at the base the hairs are dark coloured. For free-living short-eared elephant-shrews many various colourations have been described, which are classified by some authors as subspecies (G. C. SHORTRIDGE : The Mammals of South West Africa. Vol. 1. Heinemann, London).
The long tail of the animals, which is always held horizontally during moving, is covered with black bristles. At the base of the tail the skin is rose, otherwise it is dark pigmented.
Already the name "Jumping Shrew" gives a hint to the funny appearance of the animals. Really striking are their long slender hind legs, caused by the lengthening of the lower legs and metatarsals. But the animals do not move, as the name "Jumping Shrew" might suggest, in a jumping way (like kangaroos or jerboas), they move quadrupedal.
Legs are covered with short white hairs, tibia and fibula as well as radius and ulna are fusioned. Each leg carries five toes, the first toe (hallux) of the hind legs is removed from the others. Toes have dark small claws.
Another striking feature of short-eared elephant-shrews is their long mobile snout (the "elephant trunk"). It is covered with short white hairs and carries the nostrils on the top, which are surrounded by a black and wet skin area (rhinarium). At the base of the long nose there are long vibrissae, that make the animals able for tactile orientation.
Besides the olfactorial sense being so important for elephant-shrews, olfactorial communication also plays an important role in the life of these animals. A special olfactorial gland is located ventral at the base of the tail. Sudoriferous glands at the feet, sebaceous glands at the tail, behind the ears, in the corner of the mouth and in the genital region can also function as scent glands.
Further characteristics are the ears, which have - in comparison to other elephant shrews - a round shape and therefore seem to be shorter. The enlarged bullae of the skull indicate that acoustic orientation is important for elephant-shrews. Optic orientation seems to play not that important role, even though big black eyes.
And last but not least - the teeth of short-eared elephant-shrews. The dentition of the animals is the one of an omnivore. They own 40 teeth, whereby each side of the jaw carries three incisors, one canine, four praemolares and two molares. The molares are hypsodont.
Habitat and distribution
Elephant-shrews are restricted to Africa, the most species living in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Only one species, Elephantulus rozeti, is found in semi-arid habitats in North Africa (Marocco and Algeria). Elephant-shrews inhabit various areas: Elephantulus is living in savannas, Rhynchocyon in mountain and lowland forests with dense underbush and Pedrodomus in thickets and undergrowth of forests in central Africa and at the east coast. Short-eared elephant-shrews are restricted to desert and semi-desert regions with sparse bush and grass cover in the Cape Province of South Africa, in Namibia and in South-West-Botswana (Map).
There are different statements
to the life span of these animals. Free-living animals might reach an age
of 1 - 1 ½ years, in captivity
3 ¼ years are evidenced. Also ages of 5 ¾ and 6 years can be found in literature.
According to the "Red List of Threatened Animals" of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in 1996 the following species are threatened: M. proboscideus, E. revoili, E. edwardii, E. rupestris and R. cirnei are classified as "vulnerable", R. chrysopygus and R. petersi are categorized as "endangered" (http://www.animalinfo.org/index.htm). The most important cause for decline of populations are habitat loss and fragmentation by deforestation. But also hunting for food, especially along the coast of Kenya, can play an important role for small isolated populations. Elephantulus, Macroscelides and remaining subspecies of Pedrodomus are not or little threatened (G. B. RATHBUN : Conservtion issues and strategies for elephant shrews. Mammal Rev. 25 [1/2]. p. 79-86).