A handout photo from the Cyclops Expedition 2023 shows Attenborough's long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenborough) captured on trail cameras in the Cyclops Mountain's in Indonesia's Papua province. EFE/HANDOUT/CYCLOPS EXPEDITION 2023

Papua expedition ‘rediscovers’ echidna not seen by scientists for over 60 years

Jakarta, Nov 10 (EFE).- An international expedition has “rediscovered” and photographed an echidna in the Indonesian province of Papua that hasn’t been seen by scientists for more than 60 years, according to the University of Oxford on Friday.

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenborough), named in honor of Sir David Attenborough and declared critically endangered, was captured on trail cameras in the lush and inhospitable jungles of Papua’s Cyclops Mountains – the only place it is found.

Zaglossus attenborough had only been scientifically recorded once, in 1961, by a Dutch botanist.

Echidnas, which include four species, are the only egg-laying mammals along with the platypus.

“Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna has the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater, and the feet of a mole. Because of its hybrid appearance, it shares its name with a creature of Greek mythology that is half human, half serpent,” according to Dr James Kempton, a biologist from the University of Oxford who conceived of and led the expedition, in a statement.

The expedition, which took place between the end of June and the end of July, involved scientists from the University of Oxford, as well as members of the Indonesian NGO Yappenda, Cenderawasih University, the Papua conservation agency BBKSDA and the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia, Re:Wild.

The expedition members installed 80 trail cameras to capture the echidna, which the team discovered in photos on the last day of the month-long mission.

It also made other “remarkable” finds such as a Mayr’s honeyeater bird, not seen since 2008, a tree-dwelling shrimp, numerous insects never seen before and a previously unknown cave system that was chanced upon when one team member fell through a moss-covered entrance.

The expedition members experienced inhospitable terrain, including venomous animals, earthquakes and stifling heat, while one member of the team broke his arm in two places, one contracted malaria and another had a leech attached to his eye for a day and a half.

“Though some might describe the Cyclops as a ‘Green Hell,’ I think the landscape is magical, at once enchanting and dangerous, like something out of a Tolkien book,” Kempton said.

He added that the expedition was possible thanks to nearly four years of planning and “with the help of Yappenda, we have spent years building a relationship with the community of Yongsu Sapari, a village on the north coast of the Cyclops Mountains.”

“They shared with us the knowledge to navigate these treacherous mountains, and even allowed us to research on lands that have never before felt the tread of human feet,” he said.

The echidna has special cultural significance for the people of Yongsu Sapari, who have lived on the northern slopes of the Cyclops for 18 generations. When there is a conflict within the community, rather than fighting, there is a tradition that one party goes up into the Cyclops to search for an echidna while the other party goes to the ocean to find a marlin, the statement said..

Both creatures were so difficult to find that it would often take decades or a whole generation to locate them, but, once found, the animals symbolized the end of the conflict and a return to harmonious relationships in the village, it added. EFE

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