Bizarre mammal believed to be extinct is rediscovered by 'euphoric' scientists

By John Mercury November 13, 2023

A long-beaked echidna, named after David Attenborough and thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered in the mountains of Indonesia. 

The long-lost species of mammal is described as having the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the feet of a mole.

It was caught on camera in Indonesia’s Cyclops Mountains more than 60 years after it was last recorded – on the very last day of a four-week expedition led by Oxford University scientists.

Biologist James Kempton found the images of the small creature in the forest undergrowth on the last memory card retrieved from more than 80 remote cameras.

An echidna walks amid vegetation in the Cyclops Mountains, Papua, Indonesia July 22, 2023. Expedition Cyclops/Handout
Image:
The image that revealed the animal was not extinct after all. Pic: Expedition Cyclops/Handout

“There was a great sense of euphoria, and also relief having spent so long in the field with no reward until the very final day,” he said of the moment he first saw the footage.

“I shouted out to my colleagues that were still remaining… and said ‘we found it, we found it’ – I ran in from my desk to the living room and hugged the guys.”

Echidnas share their name with a half-woman, half-serpent Greek mythological creature, and were described by the team as shy, nocturnal burrow-dwellers who are notoriously difficult to find.

“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 200 million years ago,” Dr Kempton said.

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This particular species, Zaglossus attenboroughi, has only been scientifically recorded once before, by a Dutch botanist in 1961.

A different echidna species is found throughout Australia and lowland New Guinea.

Dr Kempton’s team survived an earthquake, malaria and even a leech attached to an eyeball during their trip.

They worked with the local village, Yongsu Sapari, to navigate and explore the remote terrain of northeastern Papua.

The echidna is embedded in the local culture, including a tradition that says conflicts are resolved by sending one party into the forest to search for the mammal and another to the ocean to find a marlin.

Both creatures were seen as so difficult to find that it would often take decades or a generation to locate them – but once found, the animals symbolised the end of the conflict and a return to harmonious relationships.

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