Long-beaked echidnas

Facts
  • EDGE Mammals Rank: 1=.
  • Endemic to the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and Papua Province, Indonesia).
  • Echidnas are among the most primitive mammals on the planet. They belong to an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals (which also includes the duck-billed platypus) that has changed very little in the past 100 million years.
  • Long-beaked echidnas have no teeth; instead their tongues are covered in spikes (teeth-like projections), which are very effective in hooking earthworms and drawing them into the mouth.
  • Three species are recognised, all of which are listed as Critically Endangered – the highest level of threat on the IUCN Red List.
  • Attenborough’s echidna is known from a single specimen found in the Cyclops Mountains of Papua. It was thought to be possibly extinct until a 2007 EDGE expedition uncovered evidence of its continued survival!
Threats
  • Unsustainable hunting is thought to be the main reason for the species' decline. Long-beaked echidnas are highly prized game species and are hunted for food by local people with trained dogs.
  • Other threats come from farming, logging and mining, which are causing a decline in the species' forest habitat.
  • Very little is known about the threats to Attenborough's echidna, which is known from only a single specimen, although interviews with local community members suggest that it may also be at risk from hunting and habitat destruction.
Conservation Required
  • Surveys to determine the conservation status of this poorly-known species.
  • Long-term monitoring programmes to identify population trends and discover more about the species' ecology and behaviour.
  • Community surveys to determine the main threats to the species and in particular, to investigate the sustainability of current levels of hunting.
  • Regional education programmes and analyses of levels of deforestation.
  • Development of a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan detailing actions needed to save the species.


Proposed Actions

EDGE aims to support local researchers to determine the conservation status of the three long-beaked echidna species, and make recommendations for the development of appropriate conservation measures to secure their future.

The three species of long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi, Z. bartoni and Z. bruijnii) are the highest ranking EDGE mammals. They represent over 70 million years of unique evolutionary history and are classified as Critically Endangered – one category away from “Extinct” – by the IUCN. Their apparent rarity and cryptic behaviour makes them extremely difficult to study, and as a consequence most populations are not currently receiving targeted conservation attention.

Virtually nothing remains known about population biology, ecology, status or specific threats facing long-beaked echidnas, or the sustainability of subsistence hunting in regions in which they occur. The first step is to collect data on these factors so that meaningful conservation action plans can be developed. The Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research (PNG-IBR) has established a long-term long-beaked echidna conservation research programme for the eastern long-beaked echidna in the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA) in Papua New Guinea, which currently represents the only targeted research or conservation programme focused on long-beaked echidnas anywhere in New Guinea. The other two species – the western long-beaked echidna and Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna – occur only in Papua (Indonesian New Guinea) and are not currently receiving any targeted conservation attention. In fact, Attenborough’s echidna was presumed extinct by the western scientific community until ZSL uncovered evidence of its continued survival in 2007.

We aim to support long-beaked echidna conservation through providing technical advice and support for echidna monitoring across a range of sites in Papua and Papua New Guinea. This will enable us to identify the conservation requirements of these species and help guide future conservation actions. Through working closely with local conservation biologists and communities we hope to engender long-term support for the conservation of all three long-beaked echidna species.

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