Seeing one wild Echidna is special. Seeing five in one day is extraordinary!
Echidnas are one of the world’s oldest mammals. They lay eggs, but yes, they are still mammals because they have hair and feed their young on milk. With the Platypus, echidnas are the only mammals of their type – Monotremes – a group only found in Australia & New Guinea. They are ancient, and have survived massive changes in their world since they evolved 15 million years ago.
East Gippsland, the south-eastern corner of the continent of Australia, is one of their strongholds. There are few people, roads and cars over there, and the natural environment is in good shape. Echidnas eat insects, and need a flourishing, diverse insect population. Invertebrates are a sign of good health in an ecosystem – so echidnas are abundant where the environment is healthy.
This day we were on Raymond Island looking out across the ‘lake’, part of the great estuary of the LaTrobe River. One guest wasn’t looking at the water though – his attention was caught by a movement in the grass. He had absolutely no idea what it was. Brown and gold, like a boulder but spiky, and moving! It was our first echidna!
She was happily foraging, and paid little attention to us. In hushed, frantic whispers I got everyone together downwind and gave them an ‘Echidna Briefing’: stay still, stay quiet, reduce vibrations on the ground (that’s the first thing an echidna notices) and if the echidna approaches DO NOT MOVE YOUR FEET.
She came towards us. We all froze. She stopped, rushed over to a log. She came out, came towards us again. By this time we were barely breathing. She approached, closer, closer, then to our amazement, brushed by one man’s foot. Wow!!
The echidna ambled off into the bush, giving us several more pictures and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Satisfied, we walked back towards our vehicle. Rainbow Lorikeets screeched, koalas bellowed, Bronzewings ‘oooommmed’, pelicans circled low over our heads. A pair of Eastern Rosellas were found feeding in the grass. They weren’t the only creatures in that grass – there was another Echidna!!
The second one was larger than the first, and he was out in the open on a lawn. Completely unconcerned. Cameras snapping madly, we approached a little and then waited in formation to see what this echidna would do. Sure enough, he approached the same man who had been touched by the first echidna. We were starting to wonder about this man’s aftershave – was it echidna pheromone perhaps? Echidna 2 went right up to his feet, sniffed at his shoes, and then went on his way. Amazing!!
Before we could high 5, another echidna was spotted! In the bush on the edge of the lawn. A huge one! For the next 10 minutes we just couldn’t leave. It was so entertaining.
Echidnas are fun to watch. They have a distinctive short-legged waddle that is impossibly cute. They will go over, under or through any obstacle like a mini tractor – nothing is too difficult! Check out the video on YouTube
We drove onto the Raymond Island ferry for the short trip to dinner at Lake Tyers Beach. But the Echidnas of East Gippsland hadn’t finished with us yet. We saw two more on the roadside along the way!
A five Echidna day!
We can’t promise that this will happen all the time, but something amazing happens on every Wildlife Conservation Journey. Join us, anytime from September to May…