Golden-rumped Sengi
(Rhynchocyon chrysopygus)
The alternative common name for the sengi, "elephant-shrew" refers to the animals' small size and extraordinarily long, flexible trunks. Recent studies indicate that they are not related to shrews at all, but are in fact distantly related to elephants. The golden-rumped sengi is one of the largest species of sengi. It can be identified by the bright yellow patch of fur on its rump. Unusually for such a small mammal this species is monogamous. It has one of the most restricted ranges of any of the elephant-shrews, and is threatened by the destruction and fragmentation of its forest habitat.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat protection and additional field surveys to determine status distribution and conservation needs. Monitoring of effect of subsistence hunting.
Associated Blog Posts
25th Nov 14
Plans to conduct exploratory gas and oil surveys within Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Kenya, have been suspended following fierce opposition from conservationis...  Read

16th Sep 10
When Kenyan EDGE Fellow Grace Wambui was awarded an EDGE Fellowship to study the golden-rumped elephant-shrew, she had little idea that she would discover a ...  Read

18th Jul 10
EDGE mammal number 46, the remarkable golden-rumped elephant-shrew, is the Species of the Day! Elephant-shrews (or sengi's) are so-named because they have...  Read

16th Jun 08
Our Kenyan EDGE Fellow, Grace Ngaruiya, studies the Endangered golden-rumped elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus). She has carried out transect surveys i...  Read

27th May 08
Grace Ngaruiya, our Kenyan EDGE Fellow who works on the golden-rumped elephant shrew, recently went to Boni National Reserve in Kenya to search for this el...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Macroscelidea
Family: Macroscelididae
Elephant-shrews were originally considered to be closely related to true shrews, hedgehogs and moles in the order Insectivora. However, recent studies indicate that they belong to an ancient group of animals that evolved in Africa over 100 million years ago. They share a common ancestor with elephants, sea cows, hyraxes, aardvark, tenrecs and golden-moles (the super-cohort Afrotheria). Fossil elephant-shrews first appeared in the early Eocene, 50 million years ago. There are 15 living species, split into two subfamilies: Rhynchocyoninae (the giant elephant-shrews, containing three species in the genus Rhynchocyon) and the smaller, soft furred Macroscelidinae (twelve species in three genera). Elephant-shrews were much more diverse during the Miocene period (about 23 million years ago), when an additional four subfamilies existed. Some extinct forms had herbivorous-style teeth that were almost identical to those of hyraxes. These subfamilies died out by the Pleistocene (1.5 million years ago).
Head and body length: 280 mm
Tail length: 240 mm
Weight: 540 g
Elephant-shrews are so named because they superficially resemble large shrews with long flexible snouts. The golden-rumped elephant-shrew is named after the distinctive golden patch of fur on its rump. The remainder of the fur is coloured dark reddish-brown. It is the largest of the elephant-shrews, being about the size of a small cat. The species has long, spindly legs, large eyes and ears, and a long, partially naked tail with white near the tip. Males and females are very similar in appearance, although males have longer canine teeth and a particularly thick patch of skin on their rump (under the patch). This “dermal shield” is thought to protect against the biting attacks of other males.
A monogamous species, which forms pairs that change only when one individual dies. Each pair shares a stable home range of around 1.7 ha, which is defended sex-specifically against intruders; males chase off intruding males, and females chase off other females. Members of a pair spend little time together, and communicate by leaving regular scent marks throughout their territories. The species is active during the day, spending most of its time hunting for invertebrates amongst the leaf litter. Prey species include earthworms, millipedes, beetles and termites. The animals probe the leaf litter with their long noses, and dig out prey with their forefeet. The species is restricted to the forest floor and never burrows or climbs. At night individuals sleep alone in one of several widely scattered dry-leaf nests on the forest floor. A different nest is chosen each night to avoid detection by predators. Breeding occurs throughout the year, with females giving birth to a single young after a gestation period of around 40 days. The young are confined to the nest for about the first two weeks, after which time they are weaned. They are independent by the fifth day after emerging from the nest, but generally remain in their parents’ range until they define their own ranges, between 5 and 20 weeks later. Females are thought to be capable of producing up to six young each year. The life expectancy for the species is around 4-5 years. It is predated by harriers (Circus sp.) and snakes such as black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis) and forest cobras (Naja melanoleuca). The species appears to have a commensal relationship with red-capped robin-chats (Cossypha natalensis). These birds follow the elephant-shrews through the forest and feed on invertebrates that they leave behind.
Inhabits coastal dense scrub forest and lowland semi-deciduous forest.

Its distribution is among the most restricted of any of the elephant-shrews. It is endemic to Kenya and occurs in fragmented and small patches of forest. Recent research indicates the species exclusively inhabits the Malindi area i.e. Arabuko-Sokoke and Gede forests. The former represents the most important site for the species, providing approximately 420 km² of habitat and housing the vast majority of individuals. The Boni forest population is now deemed to consist of a new and un-described species, a subject that requires additional research.

Population Estimate

The most recent population estimates, complete in 2007/08 suggest a major population of around 12,750 individuals in the Arabuko Sokoke forest region. An additional small population of just over 20 individuals was recorded within the Gede forest area.

Population Trend

Populations densities in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest decreased by c. 30% between 1993 and 1996 from an estimated 20,000 to 14,000 individuals. Whilst populations continue to decline within at least two disturbed regions inside the Arabuko forest, increases in the Cynometra zone have been reported due to regeneration of the area after a decade old disturbance. Additionally the Gede forest population, which decreased from around 70 individuals in the 1970s to just 15 in the mid 90s has shown a gradual increase in size to over 20. This has resulted from the construction of new fencing to prevent unmonitored entry to the site.

Listed as Endangered (EN B1ab(iii)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The species is threatened primarily by habitat loss. Its forest habitat has become highly fragmented, and most remaining areas are thought to be too small to support viable populations. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest- the only sizeable area of forest in which the species occurs - is under pressure from forestry practices such as logging and encroachment for agriculture. Elephant-shrews are known to shelter from predators in hollow trees. However, many of the trees favoured by the species are being removed by woodcarvers who supply the tourist industry with carvings of African wildlife. The removal of these trees may make the elephant-shrews more vulnerable to natural predators as well as introduced species such as dogs. The animals are not targeted by local hunters because they have an unpleasant taste. However, they are sometimes caught in traps and snares set for other animals and this may also be affecting their numbers.
Conservation Underway
The species occurs mainly in the 420 km² Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya, which is protected and managed jointly by the Forest Department and Kenya Wildlife Service. A 25 year Strategic Management Plan (2002-2027) for the forest has been developed, which focuses on promoting long-term conservation through sustainable management and community participation in forest conservation. The species was monitored in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest under a 3-year (2003-2005) USAID funded project run by Nature Kenya (the Kenyan partner to BirdLife International), and some research has been conducted on the impact of trapping on the species. The species occurs in several isolated forest fragments (kaya forests) which have been gazetted as National Monuments as a result of a project run by the Coast Forest Conservation Unit (National Museums of Kenya). However, while development and encroachment are prohibited in these areas, there is only limited protection for biodiversity.
Conservation Proposed

The IUCN has produced a Conservation Action Plan for this species which recommends that the conservation strategy should be aimed primarily at protecting the species’ habitat. There is also an immediate need for additional field surveys to determine the status and conservation needs of the species. The effect of subsistence hunting on the species should be monitored. If trapping is to continue then it must be managed to ensure it is sustainable; otherwise the species should receive complete protection. There is some evidence that elephant-shrews may adapt to altered habitats, provided there is suitable cover, leaf litter and plentiful invertebrates. Such reports need to be investigated as they will have an influence on the development of conservation programmes. There have been some recent successes in captive breeding of the black and rufous elephant-shrew (R. petersi), indicating that it is possible to maintain giant elephant-shrews in captivity. If the population of the golden-rumped elephant shrew is found to be critically low then attempts should be made to improve husbandry techniques so that this species may also be bred in captivity.

Associated EDGE Community members

Galen is the Chair of the IUCN SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group

Grace works on the Golden rumped elephant shrew in Kenya.

The sengi website
Detailed information on elephant-shrews. Includes a bibliography, photo gallery and research contacts.

IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group
Aims to determine the status of many poorly known afrotherian species (the aardvark, hyraxes, sengis, golden-moles, and tenrecs) and develop conservation strategies for those that are threatened. The group also aims to encourage research, improve coordination, and increase awareness of the importance of conserving afrotherians and their habitats.

Friends of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Watamu, Kenya
The FoASF was started in October 1999 by concerned individuals and institutions to link people interested in the conservation of the Forest with the present Forest Managers.

Zoo population
The species has never successfully bred in captivity, although several animals were kept successfully at Frankfurt Zoo.
FitzGibbon, C. & Rathbun, G. 2008. Rhynchocyon chrysopygus. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.3. . Downloaded on 16 September 2010.

Macdonald, D. (ed.). 2001. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

Nicoll, M. E. and Rathbun, G. B. 1990. African Insectivora and Elephant-Shrews: An Action Plan for their Conservation. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree-Shrew and Elephant-Shrew Specialist Group. IUCN: Gland, Switzerland.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Rathbun, G. B. 1979. Rhynchocyon chrysopygus. Mammalian Species. (117:1-4). American Society of Mammalogists.

Rathbun, G. B. and Kyalo, S. N. 2000. Golden-rumped Elephant-shrew. In Reading, R. P. and Miller, B. (eds) Endangered Animals: A Reference Guide to Conflicting Issues. Greenwood Press.

Sengi website

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

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