"Sengis are restricted to Africa and, despite their small size, are more closely related to elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks than they are to true shrews."
New York, June 27 - Scientists have found a new species of round-eared sengi, or elephant-shrew, in the remote deserts of south-western Africa.
This is the third new species of sengi to be found in the wild in the past decade.
It is also the smallest known member of the 19 sengis in the order Macroscelidea.
Genetically, Macroscelides micus is very different from other members of the genus and it's exciting to think that there are still areas of the world where even the mammal fauna is unknown and waiting to be explored, said Jack Dumbacher from California Academy of Sciences in the US.
While collecting and examining sengi specimens from south-western Africa, the researchers encountered an unusual specimen collected in the remote north-western region of Namibia, differing in appearance from any of the museum specimens that they had examined previously.
The specimen was significantly smaller, had rust-coloured fur, a large, hairless gland on the underside of its tail, and lacked dark skin pigment.
Preliminary genetic analysis also showed important differences between this specimen and close relatives.
Suspecting they may have encountered a new species, the team set out on nine expeditions between 2005-2011.
In total, the team collected 16 specimens for comparative analyses.
Comparing the specimens to those in natural history collections in Windhoek, Pretoria, London, Los Angeles, and the Academy in San Francisco, and further genetic analysis, confirmed that they had, in fact, found a new species.
Had our colleagues not collected those first invaluable specimens, we would never have realised that this was, in fact, a new species, since the differences between this and all other known species are very subtle, Dumbacher added.
Sengis are restricted to Africa and, despite their small size, are more closely related to elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks than they are to true shrews.
The findings have been described in the Journal of Mammalogy.