Fact file: Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi)

Long beaked Echidna – Creative Commons

IUCN statusCritically endangered
Population sizeunknown
Population trendDeclining
Unique evolutionary history46 million years

Why is the Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna so special?

The Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) also known as Sir David’s long-beaked echidna, is a very rare and special species.

This spiny, egg-laying mammal is thought to have first inhabited the earth during the times of the dinosaurs and is only one of five monotremes (egg-laying mammals), others include, short-beaked echidna (Genus Tachyglossus) and platypus (genus Ornithorhynchus).

Despite Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna being one of the most evolutionarily distinct mammals it was only discovered in 1961 by a Dutch botanist in the cyclops mountains, Papua, Indonesia. It has not been recorded by scientists since despite more recent efforts, however in 2007 a research team visited the mountains and through local community interviews, found evidence that the distinctive animal was still present, albeit very elusive!

There is only one specimen that has ever been collected but from that reference and descriptions from local observations of the Echidna in the mountains, it was described as being similar to other long-beak echidnas but overall smaller in size, with shorter fur,  brown in colour with a shorter, straighter beak (Flannery and Groves – 1998).

What are the threats facing Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna?

Due to the extreme difficulty in being able to track and locate the small, long-beaked echidna, there has been no research on the species or even the population itself to be able to identify specific threats. However, all long-beaked echidnas are at threat of hunting using trained dogs that can detect burrows even in dense habitat.

Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna is referred to as payangko and it is considered a delicacy and has a strong connection to local traditions, meaning hunting by local people in the Cyclops Mountain range continues to be a major threat.

As with so many other species, habitat degradation also plays a significant factor in their decline.  

Scientific drawing of the reproductive system of a long-beaked echidna

What is being done to help save Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna from extinction?

EDGE researchers launched an expedition in 2007 to try and assess whether Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna still exists, and identify potential research sites. Evidence of echidna activity such as digging & burrowing was recorded as well as local knowledge of the species implying it still exists and in that area, despite no sightings (Baillie et al. 2009)

Since 2007. ongoing research with local communities and organisations to develop ongoing monitoring schemes and action plans has been put in place.

Understanding other long-beaked echidnas could also help with the ongoing efforts to locate and conserve Attenborough’s long-beaked Echidna. In 2021, WAWA carried out a successful fundraising campaign to support MONITOR Conservation Research Society with their own research into the illegal trade of long-beaked Echidnas.

What can I do to help?

Edge of Existence, a part of ZSL, has recently identified the following actions as important to working towards a better understanding and protection of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna:

  • Build long-term collaborations with local stakeholders
  • Community interviews to collect species sighting records and to develop a database of indigenous knowledge
  • Produce potential species distribution maps for key vertebrates to guide future monitoring surveys
  • Establish feasible sampling plots and transects for ongoing monitoring of key species
  • Identify key threats from ranger patrol data
  • Work with local stakeholders to develop an ongoing monitoring scheme and species action plan

You can read more about their amazing work here.

If you love weird animals of all shapes and sizes and you want to see how you can help with WAWA’s conservation support, then please see how you can get involved here.