An expedition across a perilous and unpredictable mountain range in Indonesia’s Papua province has led to the rediscovery of an endangered egg-laying mammal that has not been seen for more than 60 years.
For researchers Expedition CyclopsAttenborough’s long-beaked echidna – a bizarre, feather-covered creature with powerful burrowing feet – is a symbol of the biodiversity that could be rediscovered in Indonesia’s Giant Mountains.
On a nine-week expedition, a crew of 25 battled malaria, earthquakes, and one student researcher even had an eye stuck to it for 33 hours.
“I like to think of climbing those mountains like climbing a ladder made of rotting wood, with bars covered in nails and thorns, and a frame surrounded by sunken vines and fallen rocks,” the team leader said. James Compton Oxford.
The mountain range, which has an area of less than 90 square miles, has been vulnerable to illegal hunting for years. It is the only habitat of the Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, which is considered critically endangered and is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Red list A threatened species.
Kempton’s team deployed more than 30 camera traps to search for ants, suspected of being present due to holes in the ground that the animal uses to search for worms. And in the last photos on the last SD card on the last day of the expedition, they finally found it.
“The first feeling was a huge relief, because we did our best and we believed they were there, but we needed concrete evidence for the scientific proof,” Kempton said. “An intense euphoria ensued.”
Kempton said the echidna’s endangered status was unlikely to change for a long time and was not protected under Indonesian law.
Efforts to change that are among the reasons Expedition Cyclops includes more than… Six local partners Compton said in his research project. This includes indigenous groups, students and organizations affiliated with the Indonesian government.
Kempton hopes the findings will help local partners raise money to research and protect Giant Mountains.
Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna is also one of five guardians of a unique and very fragile evolutionary history dating back more than 200 million years, Kempton said.
He explained that hedgehogs are monotremes, meaning they are part of the only group of living mammals that lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. There are only five extant species of monotremes: the platypus and four species of echidna.
“For a biologist, the idea that this branch could become extinct would be a great tragedy,” Kempton said. “It is an evolutionary history that can never be recovered.”
Rediscovering Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna was just one of the goals of the Cyclops Expedition. The researchers also set out to investigate the origins of giant mountain biodiversity. They returned with hundreds of new species of insects, at least two new species of frogs, and a new species of shrimp that lives on the ground and in trees.
The unique geological origins of the Cyclops Mountains represent a huge driving force behind the region’s biodiversity, Kempton said. The mountain range was islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. As the Earth’s continents gradually drifted together, they collided with mainland New Guinea to form mountains.
Expedition Cyclops also rediscovered the Meyer’s honeyeater, a species of bird that had not been seen in 15 years.
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