Taronga Zoo is celebrating its first successful Short-beaked Echidna births in 29 years, with keepers monitoring the progress of three healthy Echidna babies born to three different mothers.
The puggles, as baby Echidnas are called, have just opened their eyes and begun to develop their characteristic spines in the safety and warmth of their nursery burrows in Taronga’s new Echidna breeding facility.
Photo Credit: Paul Fahy
Echidnas are notoriously difficult to breed in human care, but keepers are pleased with the progress of the tiny trio and first-time mothers, Ganyi, Spike, and Pitpa.
Echidnas are one of only two Australian mammals that lay eggs (the other is the Platypus). The puggle hatches after 10 days and is carried around by its mother in a pouch-like skin fold for up to two months. Once the puggle starts to develop spines it is deposited in a specially-constructed nursery burrow and the mother returns to feed it every 3-6 days.
“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,” said zoo keeper Suzie Lemon.
The three puggles all hatched in August. The youngest was born to mother Pitpa, who was the last Echidna born at Taronga in 1987.
“A great deal of mystery still surrounds this spiny species. Echidnas are quite elusive in the wild, so it’s hard to study their natural breeding behaviors,” said Suzie.
Suzie said the sudden success of Taronga’s Echidna breeding program could be attributed to the newly completed breeding facility, which was designed after extensive research and consultation with other zoos and wildlife parks. The facility includes insulated nest boxes to ensure the puggles remain warm and safe as they develop.
“A day in the puggle world consists of lots of sleeping. They can be buried up to 30cm deep in their burrow, so they’ll just sleep and use all their energy to grow and develop,” said Suzie.
Keepers have begun to weigh the puggles every three days to monitor their body condition and general development. The heaviest of the trio weighs over 500 grams, while the youngest weighs about 250 grams.
“This is a big step forward for Taronga. By monitoring the puggles so closely we’ve now got a good broad understanding of their growth cycle and development,” said Suzie.
Keepers have yet to choose names or determine the sexes of the three puggles, which won’t start to explore outside their burrows until early next year.