Echidnas, medium-sized animals that closely resemble porcupines or hedgehogs, are one of only two egg-laying mammals (the other being the duck-billed platypus) left in the world. Also called spiny anteaters, the timid creatures that are native to Australia are very elusive and hard to observe in the wild. Therefore, though they have been around for millions of years, very little is known about their lifestyle, making it almost impossible to breed the mammals in captivity.
Hence, the news that the three echidna babies, or puggles, hatched at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo in August had survived the first crucial months was met with much joy. On November 18, zoo keepers announced that the trio had opened their eyes and begun to develop their characteristic spines, both signs of good health. The tiny mammals, who hatched between August 16–30, all have different mothers. The youngest was born to Pitpa, the last echidna born at the zoo in 1987!
In the wild, the adorable puggles spend the first two months nuzzled inside their mother’s pouch-like skin fold. Once they start to grow their sharp spines, the babies are transferred to underground tunnels where they remain warm and protected. The mothers return every three to six days to feed the puggles. When the infants are about six months old, they are taken from the nesting area, fed one final time, and then left to their own means.
The zoo-born puggles are undergoing a similar transition. After spending some time in their respective mother’s pouches, they were transferred to cozy burrows designed to mimic the underground tunnels in the wild. According to their keeper, Suzie Lemon, “All three mothers are doing an amazing job and tending to their puggles as needed. We have one mum, Spike, who is so attentive that she returns to feed her baby every second day.”
Suzie attributes the recent success to the zoo’s newly completed echidna breeding facility, which was constructed after extensive consultation with other zoos and wildlife parks. The expert adds that monitoring — these yet to be named — puggles, is allowing them to get a better understanding of how the mammals grow and develop. This knowledge will help improve the breeding program even further, which means that the zoo will not have to wait for another 30 years to welcome more members of these delightful animals.
Resources: cnn.com, taronga.org.au, dailymail.co.uk