A baby echidna is making a remarkable recovery at Taronga Zoo, after being left seriously injured when its burrow was dug up by a bulldozer.
Taronga Keeper, Samantha Elton, has taken on the role of surrogate mother to the echidna puggle, feeding it a special milk mixture from the palm of her hand.
The puggle was first brought to the Wildlife Hospital at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo with a deep wound to the side of its body, after its nursery burrow was accidentally dug up by a bulldozer in Coonamble just before Christmas.
Believed to have been just two months old when rescued, the echidna required weeks of antibiotics, hand rearing and sleep in a temperature controlled artificial burrow.
The puggle – which is still too young for keepers to determine its gender – was recently transferred to Taronga Zoo in Sydney for ongoing care and its surrogate mum couldn’t be happier with its progress.
“It is still quite small for its age, but it has almost doubled in size since February and the wound has healed perfectly,” said Samantha.
The puggle – which Samantha has named ‘Newman’ after the Seinfeld character who shares its beady eyes – has grown from 390 grams to 750 grams in two months and is finally feeding confidently.
Instead of having teats like other mammals, echidnas have patches on their abdomen that excrete milk for their young to lap up. Samantha has to feed Newman from the palm of her hand, so the puggle can lap milk as it would do in the wild.
“The feeding process was very stop-start at first, but now the puggle is like a little Hoover. It will drink constantly for about 40 minutes, only stopping to blow milk out its nose,” said Samantha.
Echidna mothers normally leave a puggle to fend for itself at about 200 days of age, but Newman still has some growing to do before leaving Samantha’s care.
The puggle will eventually join the group of echidnas at Taronga’s Education Centre, acting as an ambassador for its species in the wild and helping to educate visitors about the importance of habitat conservation and protection of native animals.