Rhynchocyon cirneicheckered elephant-shrew(Also: checkered sengi)

Geographic Range

Checkered elephant shrews are found only in central and southeast Africa, in the countries of Uganda, southern Tanzania, northern Zaire, northern and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northern and central Mozambique, northeastern Zambia, and Malawi. (Ansell and Dowsett, 1988; Ansell, 1978; Bere, 1962; Boitani, 1999; Dorst and Dandelot, 1970; Grzimek, et al., 2003)


Checkered elephant shrews prefer lowland and montane tropical rainforests. They are also found in forest mosaics (open woodlands and woodlands mosaics), grasslands, riparian forests, shrublands, bushlands, and croplands. Checkered elephant shrews are well adapted to areas where there is a plentiful supply of food and water year round. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Ansell and Dowsett, 1988; Ansell, 1978; Bere, 1962; Dorst and Dandelot, 1970; Grzimek, et al., 2003)

Physical Description

Checkered elephant shrews are one of the largest elephant shrews, ranging in body length from 22.9 to 30.5 centimeters and tail length from 17.8 to 25.4 centimeters. They weigh 410 to 550 grams. The coat has several dark stripes that run on either side of the body. A “checkered” pattern is created on the back with alternating chestnut and off-white colors. The background color ranges from beige to yellowish brown to dark brown. Members of the genus Rhynchocyon tend to have bright colors and patterns on their fur. The hind legs are longer than the fore limbs, resulting in a hunchbacked posture. Their forelimbs have three long claws used to excavate small holes in the ground. Checkered elephant shrews also have long and tapering tails, with scent glands located just behind the anus. The nose is elongated and the tongue, which is used to pick up small food items, extends well beyond the edge of the nose. The long proboscis continually twitches in a hesitant, circular motion. It is used as a tool and sense organ. The nostrils are located on the forward end of the snout while long sensory whiskers arise from its base. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Dorst and Dandelot, 1970; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001; Rathbun, 1979; Rathbun, 2005)

General traits for the order Macroscelidea include a relatively long digestive tract with a caecum and several distinctive features of the reproductive tract. Male macroscelids have larger canine teeth than females. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Dorst and Dandelot, 1970; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001; Rathbun, 1979; Rathbun, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    408 to 550 g
    14.38 to 19.38 oz
  • Range length
    22.9 to 30.5 cm
    9.02 to 12.01 in


Checkered elephant shrews form monogamous pairs for life. (Macdonald, 2001)

The number of offspring is uncertain. One source states that they have one offspring at a time. Another reports that 4 specimens from Uganda and Zambia had litters of 2 offspring. The British Museum of Natural History has a specimen from which 3 fetuses were removed. A female is able to gestate and lactate at the same time, and females give birth 4 to 5 times a year. Young elephant shrews are born with hair. Rhynchocyon cirnei breeds throughout the year. The gestation period lasts for a period of 42 days. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001; African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001; African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001; African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Bere, 1962; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs four to five times a year in checkered elephant shrews.
  • Breeding season
    Checkered elephant shrews mate year-round.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average gestation period
    42 days
  • Range weaning age
    2 (high) weeks
  • Range time to independence
    5 to 10 weeks

Newborn checkered elephant shrews stay in the nest for two weeks. After this time the young are fully weaned but follow the mother while she forages. The youngster is able to survive on its own five days after it leaves the nest, but stays with the parents for an extra 5 to 10 weeks after weaning, while trying to establish its territory. Young leave the parents' supervision when they find a territory and a mate. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Nothing is known about the lifespan of checkered elephant shrews lifespan. In general, members of the genus Rhynchocyon live to about four of five years old. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    4-5 years


Checkered elephant shrews live in pairs or in small groups within a common territory of several acres. Although an adult pair shares the same territory, the members of a pair defend it individually. Females protect their territory by forcing intruding females to leave while males evict strange males. Elephant shrews communicate the status of group members vocally. When alarmed by predators and other factors, they tail-rap the ground or foot drum to alert other group members. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Ansell and Dowsett, 1988; Bere, 1962; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Rathbun, 2005)

The long limbs of elephant shrews are adapted for cursorial locomotion. Checkered elephant shrews are mostly active during the day but sometimes exhibit nocturnal behavior. During the night they rest in nests constructed from a shallow depression and leaves. They do not burrow nor do they climb.

Home Range

Home ranges are believed to encompass several acres.

Communication and Perception

Checkered elephant shrews use visual perception in territorial encounters but also use scent signals to communicate. The scent gland is located just behind the anus and is used to mark territories. When foraging with other checkered elephant shrews, they make continuous squeals and squeaks to maintain group unity. When checkered elephant shrews are alarmed they slap their tail on the ground or tail-rap. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001)

Food Habits

Checkered elephant shrews are invertivores. They eat invertebrates such as ants, termites, centipedes, earthworms, and beetles and their larvae. They also will eat small mammals, amphibians, mollusks, birds, and bird eggs. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Macdonald, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms


Snakes and birds of prey are the primary predators of checkered elephant shrews. Checkered elephant shrews are eaten in certain areas of eastern Africa by humans. They are cryptically colored and help to warn each other about the presence of predators through vocal signals. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Checkered elephant shrews are insectivores and impact insect communities through predation.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Some people from East Africa use elephant shrews as a source of food. (African Wildlife Foundation, 2005; Rathbun, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of checkered elephant shrews on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN places R. cirnei in the vulnerable threat category. Not enough research has been done to determine its true conservation status.

Other Comments

Other common names for R. cirnei are giant elephant shrews and giant sengis. (Grzimek, et al., 2003)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Robert Gasior (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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


active during the night


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.


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


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


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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


African Wildlife Foundation, 2005. "African Wildlife Foundation" (On-line). Elephant Shrew. Accessed March 12, 2006 at http://www.awf.org/wildlives/72.

Ansell, W. 1978. The Mammals of Zambia. Chilanga, Zambia: The National Parks and Wildlife Services.

Ansell, W., R. Dowsett. 1988. Mammals of Malawi. Zennor, St. Ives, Cornwall: The Trendrine Press.

Bere, R. 1962. The Wild Mammals of Uganda and Neighbouring regions of East Africa. London: Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd..

Boitani, 1999. "frame list of species" (On-line). Rhynchocyon cirnei. Accessed March 15, 2006 at http://www.gisbau.uniroma1.it/amd/homespec.html.

Dorst, J., P. Dandelot. 1970. A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Grzimek, B., N. Schlager, D. Olendorf, M. McDade. 2003. Monotypic order: Macroscelidea. Pp. 519, 525 in V Geist, M Hutchins, D Kleiman, M McDade, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 16/5, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Macdonald, D. 2001. Elephant Shrews. Pp. 716-719 in D Macdonald, S Norris, eds. The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 3/1, 1st Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc..

Rathbun, G. 1979. The Social Structure and Ecology of Elephant Shrews. Berlin, Germany: Verlag Paul Parey, Berlin and Hamburg. Accessed April 15, 2006 at http://www.calacademy.org/research/bmammals/eshrews/RathbunSengiMonograph.pdf.

Rathbun, G. 2005. "Elephant Shrews" (On-line). Elephant- Shrews or Sengis. Accessed April 15, 2006 at http://www.calacademy.org/research/bmammals/eshrews/synopsis.html.