Attenborough’s Long Beaked Echidna

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Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is the smallest and probably most threatened of the three echidna species. It is known from a single specimen collected by a Dutch botanist during an expedition to the Cyclops Mountains in 1961. Despite more recent attempts to search for the species it has remained elusive and was believed extinct by the research community until EDGE team members visited the mountains in 2007. Although no individuals were sighted, echidna signs were found and interviews with local community members revealed that the distinctive animals were still present in the mountains. Considered a delicacy and featuring strongly in local traditions, the echidnas are considered to be extremely rare even by hunters who regularly go into the forest of the lower peaks.

It  is one of just five surviving species of monotreme, an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals only found in Australia and New Guinea, whose origins go back to the Jurassic era some 160 million years ago. Despite their largely primitive body plans, all living monotremes display unusually specialised ecological adaptations and have surprisingly large, complex brains. Virtually nothing is known about the ecology of this species, since its behaviour has never been recorded.

Population Estimate: Unknown

Status: Critically Endangered

Threats: Hunting is thought to be the main threat; long-beaked echidnas are highly prized game species and are hunted for food by local people with trained dogs. Habitat loss and degradation may also be having a negative impact on the species, particularly on the southern slopes of the Cyclops Mountains, where large areas are being exploited for farming, logging and mining, in addition to hunting.

Conservation Underway: This species is listed on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The area from which the single specimen was collected, Mount Rara, is now protected as part of the Cyclops Mountains Strict Nature Reserve. There are currently no targeted conservation measures in place.

References: www.iucnredlist.org, http://www.edgeofexistence.org

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