Friday, September 25, 2015

Endangered anteaters: Long-beaked echidnas successfully bred by conservationists

Sep 24, 2015 01:49 PM EDT

Long-Beaked Echidna
Long-beaked echidnas are threatened by habitat loss and hunters in New Guinea and Indonesia. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Breeding efforts for the endangered short-beaked echidna, also known as the spiny anteater, are proving to be successful at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Australia. The University of Queensland (UQ) is working along side scientists at the nature preserve where they have birthed 14 new babies in captivity over the past five years.

"Up to a few years ago it was thought almost impossible to breed echidnas in captivity, and most births were somewhat accidental and unplanned," Stephen Johnston, an associate professor at UQ, said in a news release. "Now we can pretty much predict that, if we put A and B together and provide the right environmental conditions, a mating is likely to be successful."
The success of the short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) represents the highest number of spiny anteaters that any zoo has ever been able to breed. Now, it turns out that their relatives, the long-beaked echidnas (Zaglossus attenboroughi), may need help too.
Populations of long-beaked echidnas who live primarily in New Guinea and Indonesia, have declined drastically due to being hunted for food and loosing their natural habitats to land development. Echidnas are one of the only mammals that still lay eggs.
"We now have a better understanding of the echidna's temperature regulation requirements," Johnston added, "and we are seeking to identify what hormones are involved at different stages of the female breeding cycle."
The typical gestation period for female echidnas lasts 20 days. Then they lay their eggs directly into their temporary pouch that develops when they are pregnant. According to the release, the "puggles" hatch roughly 10 days later and stay in the pouch for two or three months, receiving all their nutrients from their mother's milk.

Echidna Puggle
Photo : University of Queensland )
An echidna puggle breed in captivity at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Australia.
"It's so important now we use what we have learned to make a real difference to conservation and the plight of the long-beaked echidna from Papua New Guinea," Michael Pyne, an official at the nature preserve, said. "Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is committed to conservation and research of our native wildlife and is proud to work closely with UQ in world-leading research such as this echidna project."
During this year's breeding season, five viable eggs have already been laid. 

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