Extinct Echidna Rediscovered

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 16th, 2007

Echidna back

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), thought extinct since 1961, appears to not be gone, after all.

Researchers have found burrows, tracks, and nose pokes made by the long-beaked echidna, recently in Papua’s Cyclops Mountains. Also, locals had said they have seen the animals as recently as 2005.

“The month-long expedition by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) involved travelling to parts of the mountain range, covered by thick jungle, which had remained unexplored for more than 45 years,” reported the BBC News.

This echidna was named after TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

The species is only known to biologists through a specimen from 1961, which is housed in a museum in the Netherlands. The shoe-boxed sized animal had not been recorded since a Dutch botanist collected the only known specimen in the cloud forest of the Cyclops Mountains in 1961.

We hope that Sir David Attenborough will be delighted to hear that his namesake species is still surviving in the wilds of the Papaun jungle….Attenborough’s echidna is one of five monotremes (egg-laying mammals) that first inhabited the Earth around the time of the dinosaurs. This group includes the duck-billed platypus, which helps demonstrate how different these are from all other mammals. Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) programme manager, as quoted by the BBC News.

Cameras will be installed next year to photograph a living Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, when Baillie’s group returns to find more proof.

How do we know this is a distinct species? What makes it different from the western species? What is convincing the zoologists this is a unique discovery? Baillie answers those questions in his blog about his recent trip to the area:

Just before landing, one of the passengers, named Mr Paulus Ormuseray told me that he had seen an echidna at about 200m elevation in the hills behind  little Yongsu village in 1980.  When I showed him the picture of a different species of long-beaked echidna from the western highlands he said the animal that he saw was similar, but was smaller, about a foot long, and had a shorter straighter beak.

This was extremely exciting news, as echidnas are not usually found at such low elevation, and everything that Mr. Paulus Ormuseray said was consistent with Flannery and Groves’ (1998) description of the only existing museum specimen of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi)…. 

Flannery and Groves (1998) identified the main characteristics differentiating Attenborough’s echidna from all other long-beaked echidnas as:
(1) An overall smaller size;
(2) Shorter, finer, dense fur;
(3) A brown colour (close to raw umber); and,
(4) A shorter, straighter beak.

However, the single specimen of Attenborough’s echidna, currently residing at the Leiden National Museum of Natural History, is in poor condition – as can be seen from the below X-ray of the broken break – so it is difficult to be certain that it is truly a distinct species.

It was therefore very encouraging that Mr Paulus Ormuseray’s description supported the fact that the species found in the Cyclops Mountains is truly different from all others.  The only thing he said that was not consistent with the description of the museum specimen was that the species was a black colour, not brown.Another point that supports that fact that Attenborough’s echidna is a distinct species is that it is isolated to a mountain range far away from all other long-beaked echidnas.  The closest population of Long-beaked echidna (Z. b. diamondi) is found roughly 200km to the south, and is the largest of all the echidnas.Jonathan Baillie July 16, 2007.

Baillie also specifically addressed the new sightings only briefly mentioned in the general media:

Four men had seen an echidna near Little Yongsu.  The most recent sighting was by Ben who snared and ate an Attenborough’s echidna in 2005.  He said the meat was very greasy and extremely tasty which, unfortunately for the echidna, is meant to be true.

Strangely, all the sightings were below 300 meters in elevation, which is uncharacteristic of the other species of long-beaked echidna; though common for the short-beaked echidna.  All the stories supported Flannery and Groves’ (1998) assertion that Attenborough’s echidnas are much smaller then their relatives (they indicated that they were roughly the size of a shoe box).  However, all of them described the species as being black and said that the beak was visibly curved.

I asked them a number of questions about the echidna that would be difficult to answer it they had not held or eaten one.  For example, I asked how sharp the teeth were and all of them correctly responded that they do not have teeth.  Convinced that the reports were genuine I asked them to take me to the sites where the echidnas were last seen.  I also asked them to go with me to the top of the Cyclops Mountain so that we could search the site where Pieter van Royen (a Dutch botanist) collected the only known specimen on July 4th, 1961.Jonathan Baillie July 16, 2007.

This is quite good news.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

7 Responses to “Extinct Echidna Rediscovered”

  1. jodzilla responds:

    This is so great!!!

  2. Ceroill responds:

    More and more we seem to be ‘rediscovering’ species that had been assumed to be extinct. Love it.

  3. Bob K. responds:

    Nonsense! Anyone can see that its an otter.

  4. alcalde responds:

    Echidna, bah. Now, if they rediscovered the CYCLOPS in the Cyclops Mountains, that would really be something to get excited about.

  5. captiannemo responds:

    I hear they taste like chicken!

  6. DARHOP responds:

    Very kool. I see another Coelacanth has been caught in Tanzania. Soooo, maybe the Wooly isn’t so extinct after all either. Maybe these animals that people claiming to see are really Mammoths. Probably not, but maybe.

  7. Cryptonut responds:

    I bet they’ll find them on camera…walking in a line….. 🙂

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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