I saw my first echidna on the outskirts of Hall’s Gap, a village at the foot of the Grampians in Australia. Jeannette, Robin’s sister-in-law, spotted the quilled creature. I looked where she was pointing and saw only a dark ball. People were kneeling around it, as they might an injured creature. One guy was stroking it.
We stopped beside the road, and Robin and I walked over to investigate. At first all I saw was a sphere covered with quills. Then up popped a long, thin snout. Two eyes appeared, then legs. Paying no attention to the curious humans gathered around it, the echidna shuffled forward, sniffing for ants. A few steps forward, then down came the snout, rooting into the dry earth for a tasty feast.
My camera trigger finger kept popping up and down, and Robin filmed a couple of video clips. I couldn’t take my eyes off the creature. I’d seen hedgehogs in Europe years ago. If my memory serves me, they were smaller than the echidna. The quills on the Australian creature don’t appear as dangerous as a porcupine’s, but they would certainly make a predator wary.
What intrigued me, besides the winsome appearance of the echidna, was how completely the creature ignored human onlookers. Clearly habituated to us as harmless and completely uninteresting beings, the echidna carried on as if we were not there.
The gathered humans were reluctant to leave, in part because the echidna is high on the cuteness scale. But they were also concerned because the little guy’s direction was toward the road. An echidna needs a long space between passing vehicles because the short legs and round body move slowly.
I found hope in the concern of people who had stopped to make sure the echidna traveled safely. We hear daily about new incidents of shocking animal cruelty. Fortunately, most people are made of kinder stuff than that. An echidna wandering too close to the road can bring the best out of us.
N.B. I just learned that a baby echidna is called a puggle. How perfect is that?!