Elephant shrews face habitat

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Elephant Shrew

Conservation Status:

Near Threatened

  • There are a total of 17 recognized species
  • Listed as 'vulnerable' in 1996 by IUCN
  • Native to more than 6 African countries

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Rhynchocyon cirnei


Up to 1.5 lb.


9 to 12 in. long, not including tail

Life span

2 to 4 years


Dense forest to open plains




Less than 2 months


Snakes, birds of prey


Where do elephant shrews live?

The four species of giant elephant shrew prefer to live in forests, closed-canopy woodlands, and thickets, usually with a floor densely covered by leaf litter. The checkered elephant shrew is found in Central Africa; the golden-rumped elephant shrew is endemic to Kenya; the grey-faced shrew is confined to two forests in Tanzania; and the black and rufous elephant shrew is found in East Africa. Smaller elephant shrew species can be found in the uplands of Southern, Eastern, and Northwestern Africa in dry forests, scrub, savannas, and open country covered by sparse shrubs of grass.

Tags: DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, East Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is an elephant shrew?

Elephant shrews are not, in fact, shrews. Recent evidence suggests that they are more closely related to a group of African mammals that includes elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks. Elephant shrews (also called sengis) are represented by a single family, the Macroscelididae, including four genera and 19 living species.

They take their name from their long, pointed head and very long, mobile, trunk-like nose. They have long, slim legs, a characteristic hunchbacked posture, and a long tail. A gland on the underside of the tail produces a strong scent used to mark territories. This musky smell apparently serves as a deterrent against many carnivores.

Behavior & Diet

Elephant shrews like bugs.

The elephant shrew eats invertebrates like ants, termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and worms. Unlike many other small mammals, the elephant shrew feeds during daylight.

They live in couples.

Elephant shrews form pairs that live in a common territory of several acres, but they are seldom together. They do, however, keep track of each other's whereabouts through scent markings.

They are not friendly toward strangers. 

They are intolerant of close neighbors, and should one trespass into the territory, it will be violently evicted, chased out by the male if the intruder is another male or by the female if it is female. Aggressive encounters involve screaming, sparring, snapping, and kicking, all of which can happen so rapidly that it appears to be a blur of animals tumbling on the forest floor.

The young are most vulnerable when leaving their parents.

Elephant shrews give birth four or five times a year. The fully haired newborn remains hidden for the first three weeks and then follows the mother for about a week. After weaning and becoming independent, the offspring remains in the parents’ territory for another six weeks. By that time, it is almost adult size and leaves to establish its own territory. This is the most vulnerable time for elephant shrews—those that survive and manage to set up a territory will likely live only up to four years.

  • Elephant Shrew AWF
  • Elephant Shrew AWF
  • Elephant Shrew AWF
  • Elephant Shrew AWF

Habitat fragmentation is the biggest threat to elephant shrews’ survival.

Elephant shrews' distribution is limited to highly fragmented forests, which limits their access to available resources and makes finding a mate more difficult, resulting in restricted populations.


Our solutions to protecting the elephant shrew:

  • Work with governments.

    African Wildlife Foundation engages government entities to help plan and propose alternative solutions to habitat fragmentation. In the case of the Serengeti Highway, AWF provides its scientists and researchers as resources to assist in proper planning to ensure a balance between modernization and conservation.

  • Use technology to drive conservation.

    AWF uses science and technology to identify critical landscapes in need of intervention and then to set effective and sustainable development plans that will both improve the lives of people and protect wildlife. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we used Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and satellite images to determine what forest areas have been disturbed due to human activity.


Will you show the elephant shrew your support?

With your help, AWF can continue working on critical initiatives like GIS mapping and working with governments to prevent habitat fragmentation. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the near-threatened elephant shrew does not become an endangered species. 

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