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Oxford team rediscovers “bizarre, egg-laying mammal”

Expedition Cyclops, which explored the Cyclops mountains in Indonesia and included researchers from the University of Oxford, rediscovered Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna which was last recorded in 1961 and feared to be extinct. Alongside Oxford scientists, the expedition was composed of students and researchers from Indonesian NGO YAPPENDA, UNCEN University, Papua BBKSDA, and Re:Wild. With the help of Papuan guides, the team of scientists trekked the harsh rainforest conditions for weeks, with 80 trail cameras and multiple ascents totalling over 11,000 metres. They faced venomous species, illnesses, hostilities, and an earthquake, but as the expedition neared its end, the echidna still remained elusive.

On the last day, with the last images on the final memory card, the team hit the jackpot with their now widely-publicised footage capturing the mammal with “the spines of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater, and the feet of a mole.” 

Named after broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and the half-human half-serpent Greek echidna, the unusual creature is a monotreme, an ancient and rare order of mammals consisting of five living species including the platypus. They notably lay yolky eggs instead of giving birth. In addition to being critically endangered, the echidna also eludes scientists’ gaze due to its nocturnal and burrowing habits.

Oxford researcher Dr. James Kempton credits the locals for this breakthrough. He said in a statement: “With the help of YAPPENDA, we have spent years building a relationship with the community of Yongsu Sapari [village]. The trust between us was the bedrock of our success because they shared with us the knowledge to navigate these treacherous mountains, and even allowed us to research on lands that have never before felt the tread of human feet.”

In addition to sighting the echidna, the team also discovered hundreds of other species such as a shrimp that dwells on trees. When a member of the expedition accidentally fell into an obscured entrance, the team discovered an unexplored cave system that harboured new species such as blind spiders and a whip scorpion. They intend to name many of the species after Papuan members of the expedition.

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