An expedition team traveling through the treacherous Cyclops Mountains of Indonesia's Papua province captured footage of a rare mammal that hasn’t been seen in over 60 years and many had thought to be extinct.
The university said the species has only been recorded by scientists once, in 1961, but never photographed. It was named after famed broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, and is part of the same group of egg-laying mammals that includes the platypus.
Echidnas are “notoriously difficult to find” because they are nocturnal, shy and live in burrows through one of the most unexplored regions of the world, according to Oxford. The animal is currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The footage of the echidna was captured in the last images on the team’s final memory card. The small group of researchers set up over 80 trail cameras along their extremely challenging, month-long journey – which included “inhospitable terrain, venomous animals, blood-sucking leeches, malaria, earthquakes and exhausting heat.”
But the voyage paid off, because rediscovering the echidna was not the only box they were able to check.
Oxford said the team was also able to find a bird lost to science since 2008 called Mayr’s honeyeater, an entirely new genus of tree-dwelling shrimp, countless new species of insects and a previously unknown cave system — which was happened upon when a team member fell through a moss-covered entrance while trekking through the sacred peaks above Yongsu Sapari, where they were given special permission to do research.
“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,” described team leader James Kempton of Oxford. “In this environment, the camaraderie between the expedition members was fantastic, with everyone helping to keep up morale. In the evening, we exchanged stories around the fire, all the while surrounded by the hoots and peeps of frogs.”
The research team — created through a partnership with Oxford, Indonesian NGO Yayasan Pelayanan Papua Nenda, Cenderawasih University, Papua BBKSDA, the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia and Re:Wild — has thus far only sorted through a fraction of the material collected on the expedition. They expect to record more new species in the coming months.
Oxford said they plan to name many of the discoveries after the Papuan members who helped them along their journey.
The sighting of the echidna is a symbol of the region’s “extraordinary biodiversity,” and Oxford said they hope it will help bring attention to the conservation needs of the mountain range.
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