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Notes on Tenrecoid

From: 4th Annual Report of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (now Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), 1967, pp. 32-33.
Online publishing with kind permission of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey.
© Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Online conversion by David Kupitz.

To the zoologist and the conservationist the tenrec must be one of the most interesting of the small mammals. Only found in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, many zoologists regard them amongst the most primitive of all ; the first forms of mammals must have been something like this.

Outwardly they seem to vary considerably, in appearance and size. Anatomically they are full of surprises and in some ways bear a marked similarity to the marsupials. The skull of Centetes ecaudatus (the largest of the tenrecs) is very like those of some opposums and, like them, this tenrec gives birth to enormous litters of young, the record for one of this species being twenty-four !

Another form of tenrec looks at first glance just like a European hedgehog, but this is a typical case of convergent evolution, and, although an insectivore, it can be seen on closer inspection to be vastly different.

In December, 1966, we received two pairs of one of this spiney form of tenrec, Echinops telfairi, from Amsterdam Zoo. They grow to not more than six inches with munte eyes, a pointed, bewhiskered snout and a back covered in spines - very like a miniature hedgehog. On arrival, they were in a state of semi hibernation and only ate a few mealworms and a little minced meat, sometimes going three or four days without touching their food. By the end of April, 1967, their torpid condition became a little worrying and they were moved to an experimental cage. The floor of this cage was covered in peat and some logs were provided. The front was covered with red polythene and an infra-red lamp and a 100 watt light bulb were fitted inside. As these animals are nocturnal, the idea was to give them a "moonlit night" during the day and the reverse at night. This not only allowed the public to see them more easily, but also helped us with our observations. The temperature was also pushed up to a constant 75 to 80 degrees and within a few days they could all be seen to be highly active and eating well.

One of the only ways to sex these animals is to wait until the male comes into a form of season or "must". This is recognised by profuse watering of the eyes (vaguely similar to the eye condition in the bull elephant). It is probably for this reason that until the last couple of years they were not bred in captivity. Between 3rd and 5th June they were seen copulating on a number of occasions. On 29th June a pair were mating in the front area of their cage. As a point of interest I removed the top one, which squeaked excitedly, and observed that it was a male. It had an erect penis and its eyes were watering profusely. There are only two definite males identified to date.

On 6th August four babies were found with one of the tenrecs, miniature versions of their parents, although the eyes were closed until 13th August.

On 28th August two more babies were found, the recorded copulation and subsequent births tie up with the suspected gestation period of sixty-two to sixty-eight days.

The tenrecs are not in danger of extinction, yet they come from one of the most endangered of all areas. They are ideal subjects for us to breed and study, needing only slightly specialised accomodation and a set, yet basic diet. We hope to obtain a second form of spiney or hedgehog tenrec, Setifer setosus, in the near future and gradually build up a more complete collection of them.

It should be made clear that their quarters are only temporary and not completely satisfactory, but the experimental caging is definitely paying off. Ideally we want small, glass fronted nocturnal cages so we can separate our specimens into pairs as we believe this would increase the birth rate. However, on the strength of this year's breeding record, one can clearly see the highly important role the smaller zoo can play by specialisation in mammals of this sort.

We have an interesting collection of rarer or more unusual mammals on which to concentrate, a favourable climate and what we think is an adventurous programme.

S. A. ORMROD,                
Curator of Mammals.  

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