Elephantulus rufescensEast African long-eared elephant-shrew(Also: East African long-eared sengi)

Geographic Range

Elephantulus rufescens is restricted to Africa. They are most common in southern Africa, specifically in Nambia, the Cape province of South Africa, and extreme southern Botswana. They can also be found from southeastern Sudan and northeastern Somalia to central Tanzania (Nowak 1997). See map in media section for illustration.


Elephantulus rufescens are found in a variety of habitats including open plains, arid lowlands, savannas, deserts, thornbush, and tropical forests. Most will take over old rodent burrows. The majority of Elephant shrews are forest dwellers that often live in burrows, ground depressions, rock crevices, termite mound crevices or under logs. Some elephant shrews construct nests on the forest floor, in which they sleep when not active. They also construct a network of paths to help them move around their territory. These trails are also used as escape routes from predators, such as snakes and small mammals (Smithers 1971).

Physical Description

Although the common name of Elephantulus rufescens is 'elephant shrew', it is not a shrew nor is it related to elephants. It gets its name from its long mobile snout, which it can move around rather like an elephant’s trunk. It uses its snout to search for worms, ants, termites and other inverterbrates. Its legs are long and thin; its hindlimbs are longer than its forelimbs, allowing it to jump and hop. It has a long tail, and large eyes and ears. It also has long, soft fur; the upper parts are sandy brown, buffy gray or buffy orange and the underparts are white, or grayish (Corbet and Hanks 1968).

  • Range mass
    25 to 60 g
    0.88 to 2.11 oz
  • Range length
    170 to 310 mm
    6.69 to 12.20 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.317 W


The pair does not spend much time together. Females are usually dominant to males. Each individual defends the mating teritory sex-specifically; males ward off males and females ward off females. Boundary encounters are characterized by drumming of one or both hind feet, ritualized gestures, and high speed chases (Rathbun 1995).

Elephantulus rufescens form monogamous pairs when they mate and share a territory of about 0.34 ha. The pair makes trails through this area and mate at established points they mark. These markings are made by scent-marking, including rubbing a sternal gland on the substrate and probably by urination and defecation (Koontz and Roeper 1983). Females may have several liters annually; recorded interbirth intervals range from 56 to 145 days. There is no seasonal time for reproduction- mating takes place year round (Koontz and Roeper 1983).

  • Breeding season
    No reproductive seasonality has been observed in the wild or in captivity (Koontz and Roeper 1983).
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    57 to 65 days
  • Range weaning age
    18 to 36 days
  • Average weaning age
    25 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    50 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    50 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    50 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    50 days

Elephantulus rufescens have a gestation period of about two months. The young are precocial, well developed at birth, covered with hair, and fairly large. . Their eyes are open at birth or soon thereafter and can walk almost immediately after they are born and thus, require minimal parental care. They are weaned by the time they are about 25 days old. At about 50 days they reach adult size, are sexually mature, and are driven from the parental territory.


There are different estimates of the life span of these animals. Animals living in the wild might reach an age of 1 to 1.5 years; those in captivity live about 3.5 years.


Elephantulus rufescens usually live singly or in pairs, although they have been seen to also live in small colonies (Nowak 1997). They are usually diurnal; active mainly during the

day, but can be nocturnal during hot weather, moonlit nights, and when threatened by diurnal predators.

A pair occupies a territory that averages 0.34 ha.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet consists mainly of termites and ants, but also includes shoots, berries and roots (Vaughan 2000). In captivity they accept various foods, including fruits and vegetables (Nowak 1997).

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit


Elephantulus rufescens have a keen sense of smell that helps them to sense food and danger. When pursued, they hide in any available shelter. They also make a series of escape routes radiating out from their nests to feeding areas so that they can quickly escape if being pursued by a predator. Few predators actually raid their nest sites perhaps because the young mature quickly and leave the nest (Smithers 1971).

Ecosystem Roles

Elephantulus rufescens has a very limited role in the ecosystem. One reason for this is that it rarely ever creates new habitat due to the fact that it uses old, abondoned burrows and piles of leaves to build its nest.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The East African long-eared elephant shrew (Elephantulus rufescens) carries a type of malaria that humans apparently cannot contract. Therefore, it has been used in malarial research and has contributed greatly to medical advancement in the curing and understanding of Malaria (Koontz and Roeper 1983).

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These animals are not known to have a negative economic impact on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the "Red List of Threatened Animals" of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in 1996 Elephantulus rufescens was classified as "vulnerable". The most important causes for decline of its populations are habitat loss and fragmentation by deforestation (Rathbun 1995).


Rania Awaad (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Bret Weinstein (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Corbet, G., J. Hanks. 1968. A revision of the elephant-shrews, family Macroscelididae. Natural History, 16: 1-111.

FitzGibbon, C. 1995. Comparitive ecology of two elephant shrew species in a Kenyan Costal forest. Mammal Review, 25: 19-30.

Koontz, F., N. Roeper. 1983. Elephantulus rufescens. Mammalian Species, 204: 5.

Nowak, R. 1997. "Elephant Shrews" (On-line). Accessed October 10, 2001 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/macroscelidea/macroscelidea.macroscelididae.html#genera.

Rathbun, G. 1995. Conservation issues and strategies for elephant shrews. Mammal Review, 25: 79-86.

Rathbun, G. "Elephant-Srews" (On-line). Accessed September 27, 2001 at http://www.calacademy.org/research/bmammals/eshrews/synopsis.html.

Simons, E., P. Holroyd, T. Bown. November 1991. Early tertiary elphant-shrews from Egypt and the origin of the Macroscelidea. Proc. National Academy of Science, 88: 9734-9737.

Smithers, R. 1971. The mammals of Botswana. Rhodesia: Trustees Natl. Museums and Monuments Rhodesia Mus.

Zoo, L. "Short-eared Elephant Shrew" (On-line). Accessed October 10, 2001 at http://zoo.interaccess.com/tour/factsheets/mammals/elephant_shrew.html.