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Echidna breeding season underway, with rare group sightings by bushwalkers more likely

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 24/07/2020 By Debra Pearce
a close up of an animal: An echidna train can last for several weeks (Supplied: Echidna CSI) © Provided by ABC NEWS An echidna train can last for several weeks (Supplied: Echidna CSI)

Having a steady stream of suitors vying for your affection might seem like a dream come true, but for a female echidna it's just a regular part of life at this time of year.

The usually solitary mammals are rarely sighted in groups, with the exception of the June to September breeding season, when lucky bushwalkers may come across an "echidna train" in action.

"It's the only time where you'll see more than one echidna out and about, and they're a lot more active," said Tahlia Perry, a University of Adelaide PHD student with a passion for the spiny Australian icons.

"Essentially, it's one female leading this train, and she has a lot of males all following her, trying to compete with each other to be the one that mates with her.

"And these trains can last for several weeks at a time, so they're quite a remarkable thing if you do end up getting to spot one in the wild."

Echidna CSI

To assist with research, Ms Perry established the Echidna CSI (Conservation Science Initiative), which appeals to the public to collect data in their local areas including photos, videos, and the collection of scats.

Sightings are recorded in an app which tracks the GPS location, date and time to build a reference database.

"We couldn't get this sort of information on our own," Ms Perry said.

"Echidnas are very elusive creatures, very hard to study in the wild, so we have developed this project to be able to capture that type of data to find out more information about them more quickly."

Last year, citizen scientists registered 17 echidna sightings in Victoria's Mallee region.

Ms Perry said this number would undoubtedly rise if more people joined the program.

"Citizen science projects, because they depend on the people submitting the sightings, get a lot more recordings in more highly populated areas, but the more people that are out looking for them, I guarantee you, the more sightings we will get in," she said.

"So they are there, just keep an eye out for them."

Cats and foxes are threats

Ms Perry says that while Echidnas were "not picky" about their environment and could often be spotted in built-up urban areas, there were still plenty of threats to them in the wild.

"We are worried about their long-term survival," she said.

"They are threatened by cats and foxes, and a very big roadkill issue as well.

"We're trying to get as much information as we can now so that we can get better information leading into the future."

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