A rare species of echidna named after broadcaster David Attenborough has been rediscovered by scientists on mountains in Indonesia, more than 60 years after it was last officially seen.
Known as Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), the animal belongs to a small, unique group of egg-laying mammals called monotremes, which also includes the platypus.
Similar to hedgehogs, echidnas are spiny, nocturnal creatures that roll into a ball when they sense danger. Z. attenboroughi is the smallest known species of long-beaked echidna, weighing between 5 and 10 kilograms.
In 1961, scientists officially discovered the animal in the tropical forests of Indonesia’s Cyclops mountains. Echidnas are shy creatures that live in burrows and only meet others once a year during mating season, so attempts to observe them over the decades have repeatedly failed.
In an effort to capture photos of the elusive species, James Kempton at the University of Oxford and his colleagues set up cameras around the Cyclops mountains. After four weeks, they found that they had captured the first ever photographs of Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna.
“The discovery is the result of a lot of hard work and over three and a half years of planning,” said Kempton in a statement.
The species is threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation and is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
During the researchers’ expedition to the area, they also spotted dozens of insect species and a genus of tree-dwelling shrimp that are new to science. The team has also rediscovered a bird called Mayr’s honeyeater (Ptiloprora mayri), named after evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr.
These discoveries mark the Cyclops mountains as a hub for biodiversity. “I think the landscape is magical, at once enchanting and dangerous, like something out of a Tolkien book,” Kempton said in the statement.