Interesting Facts

For the First Time in 60 Years, Scientists Discover a 'Lost' Echidna Species

An expedition team in Indonesia discovered the elusive, egg-laying animal (Echidna) named after David Attenborough, which had not been seen since 1961.

An elusive species of echidna in the wild has been photographed for the first time by an expedition team investigating Indonesia’s Cyclops Mountains. Some researchers worry that the species may have become extinct because the last confirmed sighting of it was more than 60 years ago.

However, the team maintained optimism throughout their four-week expedition, supported by local reports suggesting the species might still be around. The Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, named for renowned broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, was caught on the final day of their expedition.

According to James Kempton, a biologist at the University of Oxford who oversaw the expedition, “the first feeling was one of great relief, because we had tried so hard and thought they were there, but we needed concrete evidence for the scientific proof.” Kempton speaks with Natalie Kainz of NBC News. After that, there was intense euphoria.

Echidnas are unusual, quill-behaving animals with long noses and tiny eyes. They are members of the uncommon monotreme group of mammals that lay eggs. There are only five monotremes left in the world: the platypus and four species of echidna.

According to Kempton, “these five species are the only defenders of 200 million years of evolutionary history,” Douglas Main of the New York Times reports. “It is crucial to preserve that rare and delicate evolutionary history.”

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A Dutch botanist acquired the first and only specimen of the Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) in 1961, and it is currently housed in a museum in the Netherlands. Despite being the smallest of the long-beaked echidnas, very little is known about this critically endangered animal because sightings are so infrequent. Its primary threats are habitat loss and hunting.

Because in this room is the preserved skin of David Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna. No other museum or scientific collection has one. Until this Sunday, we knew it as the only evidence that this species ever existed.— Naturalis Biodiversity Center (@Naturalis_Sci) November 10, 2023

Z. According to a statement from Re:wild, attenboroughi has been “lost” from the scientific record since it was first discovered, but members of the Yongsu Sapari community in Indonesia have reported much more recent sightings. Gison Morib, a member of the expedition team, discovered evidence of the animals as recently as 2022, including their burrows and the holes in the ground that their long snouts left behind when they dug for worms.

The echidna is known as “payangko” in the local Tepera language. According to the statement, the animals were traditionally used to settle disputes within the community rather than engaging in physical combat. While the other party headed to the ocean in search of a marlin, one side would head up into the Cyclops Mountains in search of an echidna. Although these animals are incredibly rare and can take decades to locate, their discovery would signify the restoration of peaceful relationships within the village.

The Expedition Cyclops team, comprising an Indonesian non-governmental organization, global researchers, university students from the nearby campus, and residents of Yongsu Sapari, worked together on a demanding expedition to obtain photographic proof of the animals.

Eighty trail cameras were positioned by the team in the Indonesian province of Papua’s tropical rainforests. They fought off insects, poisonous animals, hostile terrain, leeches, malaria, earthquakes, and intense heat for a month, but they were unable to take a single picture of the echidnas. Ultimately, with their last SD card, the researchers were able to acquire the images and videos that proved the elusive creatures were still alive on the mountain.

Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute and mammalogist Kristofer Helgen, who was not part of the expedition, tells the Times that it is “really valuable to understand that it still occurs in the Cyclops Mountains.” “These are some of the most unique animals on Earth, in my opinion.”

The expedition team discovered other ground-breaking things in addition to the echidnas. According to a statement from the University of Oxford, they found new species of blind spiders, a whip scorpion, and a blind harvestman (also known as daddy longlegs) in an underground cave system. They also found the Mayr’s honeyeater, a bird that hasn’t been seen since 2008.

The findings, according to the researchers, should support conservation efforts in the Cyclops Mountains.

Greek insect expert Leonidas-Romanos Davranoglou of the University of Oxford, who participated in the study, tells BBC News’ Jonah Fisher and Charlie Northcott, “We were so excited, because we were always saying, ‘This is new, nobody has seen this’ or ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that I’m seeing this.'” “That expedition was absolutely monumental.”

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