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Giant Elephant Shrew


Other Common Names: Black & Rufous Sengi, Zanj Sengi
Order: Macroscelidea
Genus & Species: Rhynchocyon petersi
Family: Macroscelididae


Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


Parts of eastern Kenya and Tanzania.


Lowland and mountain forests, dense woodlands, and coastal forests from sea level to 7,550 feet altitude.




Length of about 20 inches (with head and body measuring 9 to 12 inches, plus a 7 to 10 inch tail) and weighing approximately 15 ounces.


4 to 5 years in the wild and up to 11 years in captivity.


Diet in the Wild: Primarily invertebrates, including crickets, spiders, termites, and ants.  May supplement diet with fruits, seeds, and plant material.

Diet in the Zoo: Cat food, insectivore chow, mealworms, crickets, oranges, spinach, and egg white powder.


The giant elephant shrew looks something like a mouse, with spindly legs and a long, flexible snout.  Males and females look similar, but males are larger.  The body is compact with a large head and relatively large eyes and ears.  Hind limbs are longer than the forelimbs, which allows for high-speed running and jumping.  The coat is soft and full.


Giant elephant shrews are monogamous, although mating is brief and infrequent.  Mated pairs spend little time together, but they remain in olfactory contact with each other and will defend their shared territory.  Males chase away male intruders and females chase out females.  Each animal can make and maintain up to 10 nests in 1 territory.  Gestation lasts 50 days, and females normally produce small litters of 1 or 2 (rarely 3 or 4) relatively large offspring.

Ecology, Adaptations, Etc:

When these animals were first described, they were classified with shrews in the order Insectivora.  Recent genetic studies, however, suggest that they belong to an ancient group that arose and never expanded beyond Africa.  They are believed to share a common ancestor with tenrecs, aardvarks, sea cows, hyraxes, and elephants.  The Bantu name, “sengi,” is now being used in place of elephant shrew in some scientific and popular literature to try to disassociate these animals from the true shrews (family Soricidae) in the order Soricomorpha.


All 4 species of giant elephant shrews are at risk.  The main threats are fragmentation and degradation of their forest habitat due to urban development, logging practices, and agricultural expansion.  Numerous small blocks of forest have been designated as reserves in Kenya and Tanzania, and these offer some habitat protection for elephant shrews.  Zoo Boise participates in the Species Survival Plan for giant elephant shrew captive breeding.