Attenborough’s Long-beaked Echidna
(Zaglossus attenboroughi)
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is the smallest and probably most threatened of the three long-beaked echidna species. It is known from a single specimen collected by a Dutch botanist during an expedition to the Cyclops Mountains in 1961. Despite more recent attempts to search for the species it has remained elusive and was believed extinct by the research community until EDGE team members visited the mountains in 2007. Although no individuals were sighted, echidna signs were found and interviews with local community members revealed that the distinctive animals were still present in the mountains. Considered a delicacy and featuring strongly in local traditions, the echidnas are considered to be extremely rare even by hunters who regularly go into the forest of the lower peaks.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Determine status of this poorly-known long-beaked echidna and produce a conservation action plan outlining the actions needed to save this species.
Indonesia (Papua)
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Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Monotremata
Family: Tachyglossidae
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi) is one of just five surviving species of monotreme, an ancient clade of egg-laying mammals only found in Australia and New Guinea, whose origins go back to the Jurassic era some 160 million years ago. Despite their largely primitive body plans, all living monotremes display unusually specialised ecological adaptations for myrmecophagous (ant-eating) or aquatic lifestyles, and they have surprisingly large, complex brains unexpected in the world’s most reptile-like mammals. Four species of monotreme occur in Papua: the short-beaked echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus (also found in Australia), and three species of long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus spp.), which are endemic to New Guinea. The fifth species of monotreme is the duck-billed platypus, which is endemic to Australia.
Head and body length: 450-1000 mm (long-beaked echidnas)
Weight: 5-10 kg (long-beaked echidnas)
The most distinguishing feature of long-beaked echidnas is their long snouts, which curve downwards and account for two-thirds of the length of the head. They have no teeth; instead their tongues are covered in spikes (teeth-like projections), which are very effective in hooking prey and drawing it into the mouth.

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is the smallest long-beaked echidna, being closer in size to the short-beaked echidna. The beak is shorter and straighter than those of other Zaglossus and it has five claws on each foot (the number of claws varies between species). Its fur is shorter, denser and finer than that of its relatives and is a distinctive brown colour (close to raw umber), unmatched in any other Zaglossus, which vary from reddish-brown to black, with an occasional pale variant. The underside is fawn, again differing from any other member of the genus.
Virtually nothing is known about the ecology of this species, since its behaviour has never been recorded. Other Zaglossus species are generally solitary and terrestrial, and are powerful diggers. They occur in a variety of habitats and are typically terrestrial and nocturnal, sheltering in hollow logs, in cavities under rocks or roots during the day. It is likely that this species lays eggs (given what is known of other long-beaked echidna species) and the diet probably consists primarily of worms.
Found in tropical montane moss forest. Its altitudinal range is approximately 166 to 1,600 m.
This species is known from one specimen collected in 1961 at an altitude of 1,600 m, from a single mountain of Berg Rara in the Cyclops Mountains in extreme northern Papua Province, Indonesia. It has not been located in the adjacent mountain ranges of Torricelli and Bewani, although there are fossil records from the Bewani range. It may possibly occur in the Foja Range, which has not been adequately surveyed.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR B1ab (iii, v)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is probably the most threatened of the three Zaglossus species, being restricted to a single site. Hunting is thought to be the main threat; long-beaked echidnas are highly prized game species and are hunted for food by local people with trained dogs. Habitat loss and degradation may also be having a negative impact on the species, particularly on the southern slopes of the Cyclops Mountains, where large areas are being exploited for farming, logging and mining, in addition to hunting.
Conservation Underway
This species is listed on Appendix II of CITES. The area from which the single specimen was collected, Mount Rara, is now protected as part of the Cyclops Mountains Strict Nature Reserve. However, the lower boundary of the reserve is at an elevation of 200 m, meaning there is no protection against hunting at lower altitudes from which echidnas have been recently demonstrated to also occur. There are currently no targeted conservation measures in place.

To identify the conservation status and key threats facing Attenborough’s echidna so that appropriate conservation action can be taken.

Conservation Proposed
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna was believed extinct until EDGE team members uncovered evidence of its continued survival in 2007. The species is likely to be highly threatened and in need of urgent conservation action, which should include working with local communities to raise awareness of the species and enforcing the protection of the Cyclops Mountains Strict Nature Reserve. Further research into the species’ ecology and threats such as hunting pressure, coupled with regular monitoring will help to inform future conservation actions.

Additional research measures include carrying out surveys in areas of suitable habitat in the Foja Range and comparative genetic analysis of all currently recognized long-beaked echidna taxa in order to better understand the evolutionary status and conservation significance of the Cyclops Mountains long-beaked echidna population.
Baillie, J. E. M., Turvey, S. T. and Waterman, C. 2009. Survival of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna Zaglossus attenboroughi in New Guinea. Oryx, 43(1): 146–148.

Flannery T. F. and Groves C. P. 1998. A revision of the genus (i)Zaglossus(/i) (Monotremata, Tachyglossidae), with description of new species and subspecies. Mammalia 62: 367-396.

Leary, T., Seri, L., Flannery, T., Wright, D., Hamilton, S., Helgen, K., Singadan, R., Menzies, J., Allison, A., James, R., Aplin, K., Salas, L. & Dickman, C. 2008. Zaglossus attenboroughi. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 20 October 2009.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. Lazaro

    Could anyone tell me how are you surveying to find the species? What kind of traps are you using? Tomahawk traps? Sherman traps? Pitfall traps?

    From what I have read here no individuals have yet been captured. This is so interesting!


    Posted 5 years ago #
  2. saadrooking

    Additional research measures include carrying out surveys in areas of suitable habitat in the Foja Range and comparative genetic analysis of all currently recognized long-beaked echidna taxa in order to better understand the evolutionary status and conservation significance of the Cyclops Mountains long-beaked echidna population.

    Posted 5 years ago #

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