Black and rufous elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon petersi)

Also known as: black and rufous sengi
GenusRhynchocyon (1)
SizeHead-body length: 27 cm (2)
Tail length: 25 cm (2)
Weight482 – 595 g (2)

The black and rufous elephant shrew is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The black and rufous elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon petersi) is aptly named after the vibrant, contrasting black and brownish-red colours on its back. Despite its name, the black and rufous elephant shrew is not an elephant and nor is it a shrew; it is actually a species of sengi found in Africa (2) (3) (4). All sengis, or elephant-shrews, are in the order Macroscelidea, a word which originates from the Greek for ‘large thighs’, which, along with the long snout that resembles the trunk of an elephant, are characteristic of all sengis (5).

Elephant-shrews are found only in Africa. The black and rufous elephant shrew occurs in Tanzania and south-eastern Kenya (1).

The black and rufous elephant shrew inhabits semi-deciduous woodlands and forests, as well as scrub areas. It may also sometimes be found in abandoned agricultural land, where there is dense tree cover and a good amount of leaf litter on the ground in which to forage (1) (2) (3).

As no comprehensive field studies have yet been completed on the black and rufous elephant shrew, little is known about its biology (1). However, it may be similar to other species of elephant-shrews, which are monogamous, with each pair sharing and defending a territory of between 1 and 1.7 hectares (6). The pair builds up to ten nests within their territory in which to shelter. Measuring up to one metre wide, each nest is made from leaf litter, and several nests are in use at one time (6). However, despite this, a pair of elephant-shrews rarely spends time together, and the male plays no role in the rearing of the young (2).

The black and rufous elephant shrew is mostly active during the day, when it uses its long nose to forage through leaf litter in order to find beetles, ants and other invertebrates living on the forest floor (6). Smell is important to an elephant-shrew and its nose, like a rabbit’s, twitches continuously. An elephant-shrew’s main predators are snakes and birds of prey, so it also has to have a constant eye on the ground and the air for potential threats (2).

The black and rufous elephant shrew is under threat from the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat, due to human activities such as logging, clearing for agricultural use and urban development (1) (3). It is also possible that subsistence hunting for food may be a problem in some areas (3).

Breeding programmes for the black and rufous elephant shrew are being coordinated in zoos in North America, and have been successful in their attempts to breed a number of individuals (1) (2). In the future, the methods developed in these zoos may be useful in captive breeding programmes that could lead to individuals being re-introduced into the wild (1). Small areas of forest have been designated as reserves in Kenya and Tanzania; these pockets of forest provide critical protection for the habitat of the black and rufous elephant shrew (1).

Learn about wildlife conservation in Tanzania and Kenya:

Authenticated (14/03/11) by Galen Rathburn. Chair, IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. Smithsonian National Zoological Park (March, 2010)
  3. Rathbun, G.B. (2008) Sengis or Elephant-Shrews. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. Available at
  4. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  5. Rathbun, G. (February, 2011) Pers. comm.
  6. Coster, S. and Ribble, D.O. (2005) Density and cover preferences of black-and-rufous elephant-shrews (Rhynchocyon petersi) in Chome Forest Reserve, Tanzania. Belgian Journal of Zoology, 135: 175-177.