(Reuters) — Scientists have rediscovered a long-vanished mammal species in Indonesia’s Giant Mountains, said to have the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the feet of a mole, more than 60 years after it was last recorded.
Attenborough’s long-billed echidna, named after British naturalist David Attenborough, was photographed for the first time by a trail camera on the final day of a four-week expedition led by Oxford University scientists.
After descending the mountains at the end of the trip, biologist James Kempton found images of the small creature walking through the jungle undergrowth on the last memory card recovered from more than 80 remote cameras.
“There was a huge feeling of euphoria, as well as relief after spending so much time in the field without getting any reward until the last day,” he says, describing the moment he first saw the images with his helpers from the Indonesian conservation group. Oh, Banda.
“I shouted to my colleagues who were still there… and said: ‘We found him, we found him.’ I ran from my office to the living room and hugged the men.”
Hedgehogs share their name with a Greek mythological creature that is half woman, half snake, and the team described them as shy, nocturnal inhabitants of hard-to-find burrows.
“The reason they look so different from other mammals is because they belong to a monotreme group, an egg-laying group that split off from the rest of the mammalian tree of life about 200 million years ago,” Kempton explains.
This species has been scientifically recorded only once, by a Dutch botanist in 1961. Another species of echidna is found in Australia and the lowlands of New Guinea.
During their journey, Kempton’s team survived an earthquake, malaria, and even a leech stuck in an eyeball. They worked with the local village of Yongsu Sabari to navigate and explore the remote terrain of northeastern Papua.
The echidna is ingrained in local culture, including a tradition in which disputes are resolved by sending one disputing party into the forest in search of mammals and another into the ocean in search of needlefish, according to Yeongsu-sapari elders cited by the university.
Both creatures were so difficult to find that it often took decades or a generation to locate them, but once found, the animals symbolized the end of conflict and a return to harmonious relations.
“Music buff. Social media lover. Web specialist. Analyst. Organizer. Travel trailblazer.”