Until recently, two of Zoo Antwerpen’s newest arrivals were safely tucked away in an underground burrow with mom and dad.
Tiny, twin Black and Rufous Elephant Shrews were born around November 14 and can now be seen exploring outside their den. Although they are curious of their surroundings, they never stray far from mom, Guusje, or dad, Olli.
Keeper Natalie said, "It's a first for Zoo Antwerp because…with Blijdorp [Rotterdam Zoo], we are the only European zoo where Elephant Shrew have been born."
The twins are currently under the care of their parents. Keepers will allow the family to bond and will have little interaction with the young. When they are old enough to be weaned and away from their mom and dad, staff will examine them to determine their sex and give them names, as well.
The Black and Rufous Elephant Shrew (Rhynchocyon petersi) is a small insectivorous mammals native to Africa, belonging to the family Macroscelididae, in the order Macroscelidea.
They are widely distributed across the southern part of Africa, and although common nowhere, can be found in almost any type of habitat, from the Namib Desert to boulder-strewn outcrops in South Africa to thick forest. One species, the North African Elephant Shrew, remains in the semiarid, mountainous country in the far northwest of the continent.
The creature is one of the fastest small mammals. Despite their weight of just under half a kilogram, they have been recorded to reach speeds of 28.8 km/h.
Elephant Shrews mainly eat insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and earthworms. They use their nose to find prey and their tongue to flick small food into its mouth, much like an anteater. Some Elephant Shrews also feed on small amounts of plant matter, especially new leaves, seeds, and small fruits.
Female Elephant Shrews undergo a menstrual cycle similar to that of human females, and the species is one of the few non-primate mammals to do so.
After mating, a pair will return to their solitary habits. After a gestation period varying from 45 to 60 days, the female will bear litters of one to three young, several times a year. The young are born relatively well developed, but remain in the nest for several days before venturing outside.
After five days, the young's milk diet is supplemented with mashed insects, which are collected and transported in the cheek pouches of the female. The young then slowly start to explore their environment and hunt for insects. After about 15 days, the young will begin the migratory phase of their lives, which lessens their dependency on their mother. The young will then establish their own home ranges and will become sexually active within 41–46 days.
The Black and Rufous Elephant Shrew is currently listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. It was still listed as “Vulnerable” in 2008. However, its numbers are reportedly still under threat from severe forest fragmentation and degradation from human expansion.