Mammal Named After David Attenborough Rediscovered After 60 Years
More than 50 animal taxa have been named after the English natural historian, and one of them, the egg-laying mammal Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, was recently rediscovered after being believed to be extinct for more than six decades.
Before the nocturnal echidna, which resembles a hedgehog with a long snout like an anteater, was rediscovered in July, the last recording of the species was by a Dutch botanist in the Cyclops Mountains of Indonesia in 1961, reported The Guardian.
The recent rediscovery was made during an expedition led by researchers from Oxford University in the only known habitat of the elusive creature. The research team spent a month searching for Attenborough’s namesake with the help of 80 field cameras, NPR reported.
Finally, on the expedition’s last day, evidence of the shy, long-lost echidna waddled through the frame.
“It came down to that very final moment,” said biologist James Kempton of Oxford University, who led the expedition, as reported by NPR. “It was the very last images, from the final camera that we collected, on the final day of the last ascent of the expedition. It was intense relief initially because we spent so much effort — and then euphoria.”
“The reason it appears so unlike other mammals is because it is a member of the monotremes, an egg-laying group that separated from the rest of the mammal tree-of-life about 200m years ago,” Kempton said, as The Guardian reported.
Another species of echidna is found in New Guinea and Australia.
The researchers navigated northeastern Papua New Guinea with the help of local villagers from Yongsu Sapari. During their exploration of the remote region, they endured earthquakes, leeches and malaria.
The echidna live at the highest elevations of the steep and craggy Cyclops Mountains.
“You’re slipping all over the place. You’re being scratched and cut. There are venomous animals around you, deadly snakes,” Kempton said, as reported by BBC News. “There are leeches literally everywhere. The leeches are not only on the floor, but these leeches climb trees, they hang off the trees and then drop on you to suck your blood.”
Kempton expressed hopes that rediscovering Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, which is critically endangered but not currently a protected species, would help protect biodiversity in the Cyclops Mountains.
“Given so much of that rainforest hasn’t been explored, what else is out there that we haven’t yet discovered? The Attenborough long-beaked echidna is a symbol of what we need to protect — to ensure we can discover it,” Kempton said, as BBC News reported.