The Djibouti ants never doubted. They live onward in their organized way, their society focused on a communal thriving, perhaps in the same way the necessary microbial communities in your own intestines are. Cell boundaries, exoskeletal boundaries, colony groups, all real enough, but never enough to define the outer limits of a life. Nested into larger and larger systems, the ants belong. Would we deny them the consciousness of knowing the species that evolved alongside them across 45 million years or more?
An ant is sick, or old, or maybe born into a drought year without enough grass seed. The colony must find balance, and surely they recognize the one who balances. Is their word for ELEPHANTULUS REVOILII a sound? Unlikely–but a chemical exuded, then detected as scent or sensation can certainly count as identification. Or maybe, like bees sharing the route to fresh nectar, they dance the name of the beast with the hose-nose designed to vacuum up ants.
“Science” lost track of this particular elephant shrew, who not only shares a sensitive proboscis but also a genetic history with elephants and aardvarks. Djibouti ecologist Houssein Rayaleh, like the local ants, had no idea that wali sandheer was missing, though the last scientific record of this charismatic microfauna was from 1968. He helped organize an expedition and live-trapping research, and even he was surprised when genetic testing resulted in a new genus for the Somali sengi.
“Humans have cut themselves off from nature, even though nature has nourished them and continues to nourish them,” says Rayaleh. Science knows now that these sengis communicate with foot-drumming, sharing insights about their relationships with food, shelter, each other. In our increasingly technological world, remembering and reconnecting within the repeating holarchies of a single planetary life may be the only way for our species to find ourselves.