Echidna, Feared Extinct, Is Alive and "Tasty," Hunters Tell Scientists

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Echidnas create the round holes when they hunt for worms, he explained.

"Some of the holes had an imprint of their head left in the mud. This left us in no doubt that they were created by the Attenborough's long-beaked echidna," Baillie said.

Given that the only previous specimen was found at an elevation of 5,250 feet (1,600 meters), the scientists were surprised to find nose-pokes at altitudes of only 985 feet (300 meters) and within 6 miles (10 kilometers) of the nearest village.

"It gives us hope that many more echidnas live higher up the mountain," Baillie said.

Next year the scientists hope to catch their first glimpse of the creature alive, when they return to set up camera traps near the feeding holes.

Echidna-Eating Custom

To help protect the remaining echidnas and ensure their long-term survival, an educational campaign is being set up in local communities.

The campaign may involve encouraging villagers to drop one of their cultural traditions, which requires catching an echidna and sharing its meat with a rival in order to restore peace.

"A lot of local people were unaware that this echidna was only found in these mountains. They are now keen to help conserve it," Baillie said.

To Baillie and his colleagues the echidna is of great significance in the animal kingdom.

"It is one of the world's most evolutionarily distinct species, with very few close relatives," Baillie said.

"It represents millions of years of independent evolutionary history, and in terms of importance it is comparable to historical relics like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. We really don't want to lose it."

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