A team of scientists from Oxford University has rediscovered a long-lost mammal known as Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi).
What makes it special: The species, named after British biologist David Attenborough, has been photographed only once — in 1961 — and is currently critically endangered. It possesses physical features that resemble the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the feet of a mole.
The unique creature belongs to the monotremes, the only group of mammals that lay eggs. The monotremes separated from the rest of the mammal tree-of-life roughly 200 million years ago, according to Dr. James Kempton.
How they found it: Deploying more than 80 camera traps, Kempton and his team found Attenborough’s echidna at the end of a four-week expedition that involved earthquakes, malaria and even a leech sticking on someone’s eyeball in Indonesia’s Cyclops Mountains. Images of the elusive animal were recorded in their final memory card on their last day.
“There was a great sense of euphoria, and also relief having spent so long in the field with no reward until the very final day,” Kempton said, as per Reuters. “I shouted out to my colleagues that were still remaining… and said ‘we found it, we found it’ — I ran in from my desk to the living room and hugged the guys.”
What’s next: While Attenborough’s echidna is endangered, it still lacks protection under Indonesian law. The scientists, who collaborated with multiple local partners — including conservation group Yappenda — hope that their findings will inspire funding initiatives and facilitate protection measures.
Aside from Attenborough’s echidna, Expedition Cyclops discovered hundreds of new insect species, two new frog species and a new shrimp species that lives in trees. The scientists hope they will be named after Papuan members of the expedition.