New hope for Attenborough’s lost species
Monday 16 July 2007
Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have discovered that Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), thought by many biologists to be extinct, is alive and living in the Cyclops Mountains of Papua (New Guinea). The echidna is known to scientists from a single museum specimen dating from 1961.
However, a ZSL EDGE programme expedition to the mountains to search for the virtually unheard-of creature found tribes that have recently seen individuals, as well as the burrows and “nose pokes” of the animal. The expedition travelled to parts of the mountains unexplored for over forty five years.
Dr Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s EDGE Programme Manager, commented, “We hope that Sir David Attenborough will be delighted to hear that his namesake species is still surviving in the wilds of the Papuan jungle. The Zoological Society of London is now planning a further expedition to the mountains to discover more about the species and devise conservation plans to ensure its long-term survival.”
The month-long expedition involved trekking into some almost impenetrable jungle on the steep slopes of the Cyclops Mountains, where the scientists undertook initial survey work for Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna. They met a number of different tribes, who provided invaluable information about the wildlife of the area, including sightings of the echidna itself. The local name given to the species was “Payangko” and it had been spotted as recently as 2005. Travelling to the locations of the sightings, the scientists found both their burrows and the “nose pokes”, or holes in the ground made when the echidnas poke their long noses into the ground to reach for worms to eat.
Dr Baillie added, “In addition to Attenborough’s echidna, we found an astonishingly vast array of biodiversity, some of which is highly unlikely to be known to science. Our next EDGE expedition will provide us with a fantastic opportunity to both study one of the most extraordinary species on the planet and discover new ones. ZSL will be working with the Government of Papua, local communities and our local NGO partner, Conservation International, to ensure that the environmental and cultural elements of the expedition are fully realised.”
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is one of the focal species of ZSL’s EDGE programme, which focuses on the world’s most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered animals. The programme was launched at the start of 2007 and is now undertaking and planning expeditions to some of the world’s most varied environments to study and conserve the weird and wonderful EDGE species.
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Notes to editors
- Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in other countries worldwide.
- The EDGE programme was launched in January 2007 to conserve the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered species. More about the programme can be found here: www.zsl.org/edge
- The four species of echidna and the duck-billed platypus are the world’s only egg-laying mammals or monotremes. They are an extremely ancient group, and diverged from all other mammals an astonishing 150 million years ago. Echidnas are spiny mammals with elongated snouts, and are also called spiny anteaters.
- Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is one of the three species of long-beaked echidnas found in New Guinea, and is approximately half the size of the other two species, about the size of a shoe box. The only known specimen was collected in 1961, and is kept at the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden. Since the discovery of this original specimen, there have been no further specimens collected or documented sightings.
- Images of mountains, jungle and tracks available on request
Contact: Alice Henchley
Tel: 0207 449 6361