Echidna species “lost to science” rediscovered in Papua, Indonesia by ICFC’s partner YAPPENDA

November 10, 2023 — It lives!  An expedition to a remote region of the island of New Guinea has rediscovered a “lost” and little-known species of echidna (a group also known as spiny anteaters). 

The last record of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) was a single museum specimen, collected more than 60 years ago.  An expedition led by Yayasan Pelayanan Papua Nenda (YAPPENDA) with students from Cenderawasih University and researchers from Oxford University recently rediscovered the toddling, nocturnal, egg-laying mammal in Indonesia’s Cyclops Mountains in the Province of Papua.  The expedition team—which also included biologists from Mendel University in Brno, Royal Holloway University in London, and Re:wild—captured the first-ever photos and video of the echidna on remote trail cameras set up in the tropical rainforests of the Cyclops Mountains.

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is named after famed broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough and known in the local Tepera language as ‘payangko’. The long-beaked echidna is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and is one of five surviving species of monotreme, the ancient clade of egg-laying mammals found only in Australia and New Guinea (which also includes the platypus). Echidnas are nocturnal, live in burrows and tend to be very shy, which adds to the challenge of finding them.

Critical to the expedition’s success was the support of customary landowners within the Cyclops Mountains, which was generously given by members of Yongsu Sapari, a community on the range’s northern side.

“One of the goals of YAPPENDA is to ensure the preservation of the Cyclops Mountains and their remarkable biodiversity, To see photos of this endemic species is both encouraging and inspiring. The payangko holds a special place in the traditions of the Indigenous inhabitants of the Cyclops and is emblematic of Cyclops’ conservation efforts. We hope this story inspires renewed interest and motivates increased protection for this unique place.
— Malcolm Kobak, cofounder of YAPPENDA

The research program used 80 trail cameras across an elevation gradient of 1,820 meters. Identification was later confirmed by Professor Kristofer Helgen, mammalogist and chief scientist and director of the Australian Museum Research Institute.

YAPPENDA was founded in 2022 with support from ICFC. Field research and collaboration with local communities and government are two components of the larger ambitions of ICFC and YAPPENDA (see our project page).

“Possessing the quills of a porcupine, the snout of an anteater, and the feet of a mole, the echidna is as much a chimera as its mythological namesake. Like the duck-billed platypus, they are monotremes—egg-laying mammals that have evolved independently of other mammals for over 200 million years.

“Before this expedition, we knew of only four monotreme species certain to have survived to the modern day: sole survivors that protect a unique and fragile evolutionary history. Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is another, crucial guardian of this ancient lineage, and finding it after years of preparatory toil and weeks of discomfort in the field, was a moment of pure catharsis.”

--Dr. James Kempton, expedition leader and Oxford postdoctoral researcher.

Cenderawasih University student and team member Gison Morib sets up one of the eighty camera traps. Credit: Expedition Cyclops.


See also this really interesting 4-minute news video!

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