Elephant Shrew

Macroscelididae: Elephant Shrew Family

The 15 species of African elephant shrews have extraordinary trunklike noses. Although once assigned to the insectivores, elephant shrews are now classified in their own order.

Elephant shrews, or sengis, are small African mammals. Despite their name, they are not shrews or members of the insectivores. Elephant shrews are known for having flexible snouts - evocative of a trunk - and long legs. They also have a unique form of tail line with thick bristles. No one is sure what the bristles are for, but they may be important for scent marking during fights and courtship.


Short-Eared Elephant Shrew

Range: Africa: Namibia, South Africa: Cape Province.

Habitat: Plains, rocky outcrops.

Size: Body: 3 3/4 - 5 in (9.5 - 12.5 cm); Tail: 3 3/4 - 5 1/2 in (9.5 - 14 cm).

They eat termites (sometimes burrowing into termite mounds), seeds, fruit and berries. The elephant shrews hop and jump from twig to branch on their powerful hind legs, using their tails as counterbalances.

A litter of 1 or 2 well-developed young is born during the rainy season. The young can walk and jump almost as soon as they are born and appear to suckle for only a few days.


Rock Elephant Shrew

It's not easy being a small diurnal mammal in the African bush. There is a whole host of other animals that are intent on making them their next meal, from hawks and eagles to small cats, mongooses and a multitude of snakes. Rock elephant shrews are well aware of the danger that surrounds them, and they are always on the run from it. They carefully maintain tracks throughout their home ranges, linking feeding areas to bolt holes. These tracks are kept meticulously tidy, and for good reason. The elephant shrews sprint along them at breakneck speed, relying on being simply too fast for their predators to catch them.

Elephant shrews get their name from their elongated, mobile snouts. They are also known as jumping shrews or sengis.

Home ranges may be up to 1 sq km (0.4 sq miles) in size. This is a large area for an animal only 10 cm (4 in) long to maintain, but, where food is scarce, it needs to search a large area to remain well fed. In places where food is much easier to come by, the home ranges tend to be considerably smaller. Young rock elephant shrews are born very well developed, and after just two days they are able to sprint nimbly around with their mothers.

Distribution: South-eastern Africa.

Habitat: Savannah grassland. Food: Insects.

Size: 10 - 14 cm (4 - 5.5 in); 40 - 55 g (0.09 - 0.12 lb).

Maturity: 2 months.

Breeding: 1 young per litter.

Life span: 1 - 3 years.

Status: Common.


Four-Toed Elephant Shrew

This is one of 15 elephant shrew species, all of which live in Africa. This one is found across Central and East Africa, where it lives in forest, on rocky ground and in other areas with plenty of thick cover.

Four-toed elephant shrews forage on the ground. They maintain paths, or runways, through the undergrowth, which they scamper along on their long legs, holding their tail up as they run. The shrews use their long snouts to root around among vegetation and into tiny holes to find their prey, which is generally ants or termites.

This species of elephant shrew gets its name from having just four toes on its hind foot. All elephant shrews also have a long flexible snout, which resembles an elephant's trunk.

Elephant shrews do not have nests; instead they sleep outside in thickets. They form monogamous breeding pairs, which work together to maintain a territory. The pair may breed at all times of year.

A single young is the norm, but twins are also seen. Female elephant shrews are pregnant for a long time, up to 65 days, for such a small animal. The young are highly precocious: they can run almost as fast as the adults soon after birth.

Distribution: Central and East Africa.

Habitat: Forests and rocky areas.

Food: Ants and termites.

Size: 21 cm (8.25 in); 200 g (7 oz).

Maturity: 2 months.

Breeding: Litters of 1 - 2 young born all year round.

Life span: 4 years.

Status: Common.


Giant Elephant Shrew

The term "giant" is relative, given the size of this elephant shrew, although it is regarded as a distant relative of the elephant.

Marking their territories is an important aspect of social communication in these elephant shrews. They have a special gland at the base of the tail for this purpose. Living in pairs or family groups, they are noisy by nature, squeaking regularly to stay in touch. At any sign of danger, an elephant shrew will slap down its tail, creating an instantly recognizable signal to other members of the group. They tend to be active during the day, rather than at night.

Distribution: Occurs in central, eastern and southeastern parts of Africa, in Uganda, Tanzania, Zaire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo down to Mozambique.

Weight: 0.4 - 0.6 kg (0.9 - 1.3 lb).

Length: 41 - 56 cm (16 - 22 in) overall; tail is almost as long as the body.

Maturity: Probably around 6 months.

Gestation Period: About 40 days.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 28 days; females may have 4 - 5 litters per year, and can be pregnant and lactate simultaneously.

Food: Mainly insectivorous, feeding on invertebrates such as ants and termites.

Lifespan: 4 - 5 years.


Long, relatively slender and tapers along its length.


The sensitive, flexible, snout-like nose evolved for probing under fallen leaves and among vegetation.


This shrew has a hunchbacked appearance in profile because of the length of the hind legs.


Fur colour can range from beige to black, often with a mottled effect.


Elephant shrews form a pile of leaves as their nest, collecting them in a hollow in the ground.


The word "shrew" actually means "villain", and may be a reflection of the aggressive nature of these small mammals.