The BBC has reported that a mystery animal with a long snout has been photographed by a camera trap in Africa.
According to the report, camera traps set up along the coast of north-eastern Kenya captured pictures of the elusive mammal, which scientists say could be a completely new species of giant elephant shrew and underlines the conservation significance of isolated African forests, threatened by rapid coastal development where other UNCLASSIFIED species may dwell.
The animal was first seen by a fellow of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). She was unable to identify the creature, which prompted the ZSL and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to set camera traps in the area.
The elephant shrew — which is not related to modern shrews — uses its long, flexible snout to scoop up insects. The creature first appeared in Africa more than 100 million years ago and, but despite being relatively small and furry, it does share a common ancestor with elephants, as well as with sea cows.
Until this latest discovery, there were only 17 known species of sengi, split into two groups: the giant sengi and the smaller, soft-furred sengi. Galen Rathbun from the California Academy of Sciences explained why these animals are so intriguing:
“With their ancient and often misunderstood ancestry, their monogamous mating strategies, and their charismatic flexible snouts, they are captivating animals… it is always exciting to describe a new species — a necessary precursor for ensuring that the animals are protected.”
The next step for conservationists is now to confirm that the mammal is indeed a new species of sengi. This can be done by means of genetic analysis once DNA samples of the tiny creature have been collected.
ZSL senior field conservation biologist Rajan Amin said that besides being an exciting discovery, the finding also highlighted the conservation importance of the “unique coastal forests” of north-eastern Kenya.
Now the region is also under threat from on-going coastal developments, he added, and the remote forests need more protection than ever.