West African Otter-Shrew, Potamogale velox

Giant Shrew

Dr Adrian Friday, retired Curator of Vertebrates at the Museum of Zoology, writes:

Because I have been in the Museum for more than 40 years, many of the specimens, both those on display and those behind the scenes in the stores,  have close associations with particular people. Some of those people were staff and students, some were visitors. Most of the associations are pleasant ones, only a few are notable for opposite reasons. So it is very difficult to choose just one specimen, but I have chosen the now slightly faded specimen of the West African otter-shrew, Potamogale velox, in one of the cases in the Demonstration Area in the Lower Gallery. That specimen was brought to us, freshly dead, in the Ituri Forest in Zaire early one misty December morning in 1974. I managed to get a blood sample from it, and getting that sample was one of the main reasons that the then Director of the Museum, Ken Joysey, and I were in Zaire. Yes, of course, we would have preferred a living animal, but a local hunter caught it quite by chance, and was told we had an interest. Ken died in 2012, and the otter-shrew recalls for me some of the more hilarious moments on what was otherwise a rather hair-raising expedition. Ken suggested that our arriving in the middle of the Congo and looking for an otter-shrew without speaking the local language was a bit like some one from the Congo landing at Heathrow and looking for an otter, without speaking English. But we did get the sample.

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