Sengis (SEN-jeez) are commonly known as elephant shrews, although they are not related to the shrew. Sengis range in size from that of a mouse to a rabbit.
They have a head and body length of 3.5 to 12.5 inches (9.0 to 31.5 centimeters), a tail length of 3 to 11 inches (8.0 to 26.3 centimeters) and weigh from 1 ounce to 10 pounds (28 grams to 4.5 kilograms). They have long, spindly legs and a nose that is turned down. They have large heads and ears and large, dark eyes. Their hind legs are larger then their front legs. Sengis walk on their toe tips rather than the feet bottoms.
The larger species of sengis have brightly colored fur ranging in color from olive, brown, black, and red, while the smaller species are various shades of brown and gray. Some are multicolored, such as the golden-rumped sengi, which has upper body fur of a deep reddish brown and black, lighter fur on its undersides, and black feet, ears, and legs. Its tail is black except for the lower third, which is white with a black tip. There is a large patch of fur on its rump that is bright yellow. In the rufous sengi, the long, soft fur ion the upper body is light brown, light gray, or light orange. The underside fur is white or gray. The fur on its face is a patchwork of white spots and black streaks.
Sengis are found throughout Africa except western Africa and the Sahara Desert region. They are most common and diverse in southern and eastern Africa.
Sengis live in deciduous forest, rainforest, grassland, and desert areas of Africa, especially where there is an abundance of water. They are found in the thick ground cover of coastal bush forests, rocky outcroppings, and highland and lowland forests.
Sengis are insectivores, meaning they eat primarily insects. Their diet of insects includes ants, termites, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and worms. However, several species are omnivores, meaning they eat insects, flesh, and plants. Their diet includes toads, frogs, lizards, fruits, seeds, and plants. One species, the golden-rumped sengi, is an omnivore, meaning it eats only flesh, mainly insects and small animals.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Sengis are mainly diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day, but during hot weather, they can be nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Several species are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during early morning and twilight. They have well developed senses of sight, hearing, and smell. Most species are territorial, meaning they are protective of an area they consider home and claim exclusively for themselves. Pairs of males and females usually have separate but overlapping and sometimes identical territories.
Most species of sengis are believed to be monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), meaning they have only one sexual partner during a breeding season or lifetime. Several species are solitary and males and females get together for only several days to mate. Females usually produce several litters a year, each with usually one or two babies, but more rarely with three or four. The gestation period, the time the female carries the young in her womb, is about sixty days.
SENGIS AND PEOPLE
Sengis are sometimes hunted in areas of Africa for their meat. Since they eat mostly insects, they help control insects such as termites, ants, and grasshoppers, that are problems for farmers because of the damage the insects cause to crops.
Three species of sengi are listed by IUCN as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction: Somali sengi, the goldenrumped sengi, and the black and rufous sengi. One species is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction: the checkered sengi. The reasons for the listings are severely fragmented populations and declining habitats. No other species are listed as currently threatened.