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Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

History of Manage Care

Zoos, general

  • First exhibited in 1845 at the Zoological Gardens of London (Augee et al. 2006)
  • Longest lived individual was housed at the Philadelphia Zoo from 1903-1953 (Augee et al. 2006)

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

(Stephenson 2015a, b, except as noted)

  • 1924: The first echidna arrived at the San Diego Zoo
    • From the Sydney Zoo (Dolan 1998)
    • Lived at the San Diego Zoo for 24 years (Dolan 1998)
  • 1956: Two male echidnas arrived at the San Diego Zoo (Courtney 1993)
  • 2013: Four short-beaked echidnas debuted at the Conrad Prebys Australian Outback exhibit (Scott 2013)
    • Two males: Didjeri and Eugene
    • Two females: Dilly and Piney
  • Short-beaked echidna exhibit planned for the Safari Park’s Walkabout Australia exhibit

Husbandry

General

  • Relatively easy to maintain in managed care (Augee et al. 2006, except as noted)
    • Precautions must be taken to ensure proper health and social environment, and to prevent escape
  • Activity levels do not appear to be influenced by temperature; remain primarily nocturnal (Brannian and Cloak 1985)
  • AZA Animal Care Manual (in progress, as of May 2018)

Shelters and enclosures

  • Echidnas are known as ‘escape artists’ (Augee et al. 2006)
  • A strong, determined animal (Augee et al. 2006)
    • Capable of:
      • Moving heavy paving and rocks
      • Digging deep under fencing
      • Climbing trees and fences over 2 m (6 ft)
  • Transport and temporary housing (Augee et al. 2006)
    • Care must be taken during transport to prevent escape and overheating
    • Echidnas will remain calm and quiet for long periods, if provided with something to cover themselves with

Social interactions

  • Loose hierarchies form in captive situations (Brattstrom 1973; Augee et al. 2006)
    • No evidence that dominance hierarchies form in the wild
  • Body size influences dominance status; smaller individuals ‘yield’ to larger individuals; compete for shelter or sun-basking sites (Augee et al. 2006)

Diet in managed care

  • Replicating the natural diet of short-beaked echidnas (termites, ants, other invertebrates) in managed care is not possible in most situations (Stannard et al. 2017, except as noted)
  • Nutritional needs change throughout the year (Stannard et al. 2017)
  • Diets incorporating soil or plant material helps to produce firm feces (Stannard et al. 2017)
  • One example of a diet (suggested by Augee et al. 2006) contains pollard (fibrous outer covering of wheat grain) as a replacement for soil (ingested in the wild, aids digestion), meat meal or minced beef, and a liquid multivitamin

Captive breeding

  • Until recent years, has been difficult and rarely successful (Boisvert and Grisham 1988; Augee et al. 2006; Wallage et al. 2015)
    • Some zoos are having more success by providing breeding females with access to artificial nest burrow boxes (Ferguson and Turner 2013; Wallage et al. 2015; Andrea Wallage, personal communication, 2017, unreferenced)
      • Appears to provide a thermally stable microhabitat, similar to a burrow in the wild
  • Courtship is short in managed care, compared to courtship in the wild (Ferguson and Turner 2013)
  • Removal of males after fertilization appears to be important (SC Nicol, personal communication, 2017)

Enrichment and training

  • Natural foraging behaviors can be elicited by providing logs with ants inside (Boisvert and Grisham 1988) or fresh ant eggs (Kern 1949)

A Long Life of Adoring Fans

Victor, a short-beaked echidna

Victor the Echidna was a popular animal ambassador of the San Diego Zoo.

He lived at the San Diego Zoo for 56 years.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

A Slender, Sticky Trap

Short-beaked echidna inspects a dish of mealworms at the San Diego Zoo

A short-beaked echidna inspects a dish of meal worms at the San Diego Zoo.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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