A team of researchers from Oxford underwent an expedition in Indonesia to discover the existence of a long-lost echidna species.
Nature always has something lurking in its shadows to shock the world. It happened when an ancient egg-laying mammal - Attenborough's long-beaked echidna - made its appearance recently after being declared endangered, as reported by NBC News. This discovery occurred in the Cyclops mountain range of Indonesia's province of Papua during an expedition taken up by the researchers. The researchers, who were mainly from Oxford University, underwent many hardships to land on this discovery. This discovery also focuses on the biodiversity present in Indonesia and encourages researchers to find out more about the gems present within it.
As per the report, the ancient mammal had its presence on earth dated back to 200 million years ago and was named after Sir David Attenborough. They were around, walking on the land with dinosaurs. Their existence for the last few decades was a big question for researchers because of their lack of visibility. They were last recorded 60 years ago.
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The expedition started with the objective of finding this creature and exploring the biodiversity of Cyclops Mountain. This expedition took a massive toll on the 25-person crew, being struck by forces like Malaria and earthquakes. One of them also had a leech stuck to their eye for 33 hours. "Climbing those mountains I like to think of as climbing a ladder whose rungs are made of rotting wood, with rails cladded in spikes and thorns and a frame shrouded by sunken vines and falling rocks," said team leader James Kempton of Oxford, NBC News reports.
I can’t contain my excitement that Sir David’s long-beaked echidna, a species only known from a single dead specimen (below) collected in 1961 which was never documented or collected again, has been photographed alive! With the scarcity of extant monotremes, this is amazing news. pic.twitter.com/5u43zS3P2b— Late Pleistocene Satan (@SatanLate) November 10, 2023
The less than 90-square-mile mountain range has long been speculated to be a habitat of Attenborough's long-beaked echidna. The creature had been considered critically endangered and also had a place on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. To capture images of the creature, the team set up 80 remote trail cameras in the area with holes, believing it must have been dug by animals for foraging. The creature evaded them for a long time, but on the final day, they were able to get a glimpse of it. Kempton recounted his reaction to the discovery, "The first feeling was one of great relief because we had tried so hard and thought they were there, but we needed concrete evidence for the scientific proof. That was followed by extreme euphoria."
The hope is that the discovery brings attention to the species and attracts more efforts to preserve it. However, according to Kenton, the critically endangered status is unlikely to change shortly. This is because their habitat is under constant threat from hunters and they have no protection from Indonesian laws. This expedition involved more than six local partners to increase local awareness about the creature.
Attenborough's long-beaked echidna holds a unique position in the animal kingdom. They are monotremes, which means they are living mammals that lay eggs rather than give birth to young ones. In the present-day world, only five species of monotremes exist the platypus and four species of echidna. "To a biologist, the idea that that branch could go extinct would be a great tragedy," Kempton said. "It's evolutionary history that can never be gained back."
As far as the biodiversity of Cyclops Mountain was concerned, the expedition which was led by Oxford biologist Kempton in partnership with Indonesian NGO Yayasan Pelayanan Papua Nenda (YAPPENDA), Cenderawasih University (UNCEN), Papua BBKSDA, the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia (BRIN) made many other remarkable finds, including at least two new species of frogs and a new species of shrimp that lives on land and in trees. Along with Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, another creature rediscovered was Mayr's honeyeater, a species of bird not seen for 15 years. In an interview with BBC, Kempton revealed that Attenborough was "absolutely delighted" by the findings.