They weigh only around 10 grams and are the size of a ping pong ball! In the desert house in front of the gates of Zoo Vienna, there are offspring among the short-eared elephant shrews. The twins were discovered on the first weekend in February. However, the mother had kept them hidden in the nests in the thickets of plants for a few days. According to animal keeper Kristina Stanschitz, anyone who wants to see the tiny creatures should hurry up. “Adolescence in elephant shrews goes by very quickly. The young animals are suckled, but also eat solid food such as insects, grains and fruit almost from the start. At the age of four weeks they are already as big as their parents. In two to three weeks they will become sexually mature and move to a backstage facility.”
Only a year ago, a new elephant shrew female moved in from the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich. The joy of the rapid breeding success is great, because elephant shrews are very picky when it comes to choosing a partner. At first glance, short-eared elephant shrews look like mice. But that is deceptive, because they do not belong to the rodents. Stanschitz: “Proboscis shrews form their own order within the class of mammals. Hard to believe, but the closest relatives of these animals, which can be up to 12 cm long, are elephants and manatees.” Short-eared elephant-shrews are native to the grasslands of South West Africa, including the Namib Desert. In Schönbrunn they live in the largest elephant shrew facility in Europe.
Twenty years ago, the desert house in Schönbrunn Palace Park, opposite the palm house, was opened with the new concept of a 2,000 square meter authentic desert habitat. Since then it has been operated by the Tiergarten and the Austrian Federal Gardens together in the ARGE Wüstenhaus. The elephant shrews have a hard time with the gardeners. “Snout shrews create fixed paths and keep them meticulously clean. In the wild, fleeing from birds of prey and snakes, they are in their hiding places in a flash. Whenever the gardening team waters the plants in their facility and creates a mess in their path, they are busy cleaning everything up quickly.”
Photos: Daniel Zupanc
Video: Zoo Vienna