Researchers rediscovered a spiky, beaked echidna named after Sir David Attenborough that hasn't been seen for 60 years and was thought to be extinct

Photo of a long-beaked Attenborough echidna taken at night.
The long-beaked echidna was feared to be extinct.Cyclops Expedition, 2023.
  • Scientists captured the first images of an elusive echidna named after David Attenborough.

  • Attenborough's long-beaked echidna was last recorded in 1961.

  • Researchers dispatched 80 camera traps that finally spotted this adorable creature.

Scientists captured images of an elusive echidna named after the British biologist Sir David Attenborough for the first time in over 60 years.

Attenborough's long-beaked echidna was last recorded in 1961, according to a news release from the University of Oxford.

A team of researchers dispatched 80 camera traps to capture the first-ever video and photos of the animal.

The photos and video were taken at night, so it might be easy to mistake the animal's spines for fur in the photo.

"Attenborough's long-beaked echidna has the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater, and the feet of a mole," James Kempton, a biologist from the University of Oxford who led the exploration, said in the release.

The echidna — also known as Sir David's long-beaked echidna or the Cyclops long-beaked echidna — inhabits New Guinea and lives in the Cyclops Mountains in Indonesia.

"The discovery is the result of a lot of hard work and over three and a half years of planning," Kempton said in the release.

What is the echidna?

The short-beaked Echidna species is found in Australia, and is closely related to the species re-discovered in this study.DeAgostini/Getty Images

Echidnas are part of a group of animals called monotremes, which is the only group of mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young.

Echidnas are one of only five remaining monotreme species in the world. This group also includes the platypus.

The spiny critters are notoriously difficult to find since they're nocturnal and tend to be shy. They also roll up into a ball when they feel threatened and usually only come out to mate once a year, in the summer.

Since there hadn't been a sighting in decades, scientists feared that the animal had gone extinct, The New York Times reported.

The mountainous jungle echidna's call home

Cenderawasih University (UNCEN) student and team member Gison Morib setting up one of the eighty camera traps which were placed in the Cyclops Mountains in order to capture images of Attenborough's long-beaked echidna for the first time.
Gison Morib setting up one of the 80 camera traps which were placed in the Cyclops Mountains.Expedition Cyclops

Another complicating factor is that Sir David's echidna lives in a mountainous jungle region that's difficult for researchers to explore. The researchers were only able to conduct their research with help from local organizations, according to the news release.

During the course of the study, one researcher contracted malaria, another broke his arm in two places, and a third had a leech latch onto his eye for a day and a half, per the news release.

"I think the landscape is magical, at once enchanting and dangerous, like something out of a Tolkien book," Kempton said. The expedition also uncovered lots of other intriguing animals, like a never-before-seen species of shrimp that lives in trees and on the ground.

A catalyst for conservation

The long-beaked echidna is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, according to the news release.

Part of the reason may be because the tropical forests surrounding the Cyclops Mountains are under threat from logging and mining, per the Times.

"I really hope and believe this will become a catalyst for strong conservation of the Cyclops Mountain Range," Iain Kobak, a co-founder of Yappenda that organized and trained people for the expedition, told the Times.

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