Taronga Zoo in Sydney is celebrating its first successful short-beaked echidna births in nearly 30 years.
Echidnas are notoriously difficult to breed in human care. The babies are known as puggles.
According to the zoo, they are quite elusive in the wild, so it’s hard to study their natural breeding behaviours, which is why it has taken nearly three decades for the first one to be born.
The long-awaited success of Taronga’s echidna breeding program is thanks to a new purpose-built facility.
“It was designed after extensive research and consultation with other zoos and wildlife parks,” a spokesperson told Business Insider. “The facility includes insulated nest boxes to ensure the puggles remain warm and safe to develop.”
Echidnas are monotremes – one of only two Australian mammals that lay eggs. 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.
Zookeeper Suzie Lemon is very pleased with the progress of the tiny trio and first-time mothers, Ganyi, Spike and Pitpa.
“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 Lemon.
The puggles were born between August 16-30, and since then have started to open their eyes and develop their spines. They won’t start to explore outside their burrows until early next year.
The youngest was born to mother Pitpa, who was the last echidna born at Taronga, in 1987. Echidnas normally have a lifespan of 16 years in the wild, but have lived up to 50 years in capture.
“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 Lemon.
Keepers have yet to choose names or determine the sexes of the three puggles.
Here’s a look a the zoo’s newest editions:
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