A baby echidna is making a remarkable recovery at Taronga Zoo, after being attacked by chickens in a family’s backyard.
Taronga Wildlife Hospital supervisor, Annabelle Sehlmeier, has taken on the role of surrogate mum to the echidna puggle, providing round-the-clock care and feeding it a special milk mixture from the palm of her hand.
The puggle was brought to Taronga earlier this month with scratches over its belly and hind legs, after being rescued from a group of chickens in a backyard near Newcastle. It was also dehydrated and unusually small for its four months of age.
“We’re not sure if the baby was alone because its mother died or because it was accidentally dug out of its nursery burrow,” said Annabelle.
The puggle – which is still too young for vets to determine its gender – received emergency first aid and has since made a terrific turnaround in Annabelle’s care.
Nicknamed “Bonsai” due to its small size, the echidna has grown from 400 grams to 530 grams in two weeks and is feeding confidently from Annabelle’s hand, only stopping to blow milk bubbles out its nose.
“Normally a baby echidna would feed every 3-5 days when its mum returns to the burrow, but this little one wants to feed every day. I guess it’s making up for lost time,” said Annabelle.
Instead of having teats like other mammals, echidnas have patches on their abdomen that excrete milk for their young to lap up. Annabelle has to feed the puggle from the palm of her hand, so it can lap milk as it would do in the wild.
“My palm is the closest thing I’ve got to an echidna belly and it works quite well. After a feed the puggle will have a little wander around in my lap and then go to sleep,” said Annabelle.
The puggle will remain in Annabelle’s care for a few more months, as it is gradually introduced to a special echidna diet and learns to feed itself.
Taronga Wildlife Hospital cares for and treats over 1,000 injured or orphaned native animals every year, including wombats, wallabies, possums, echidnas, birds and sea turtles.