A Detours & Diversions piece on places to interact with echidnas in the wild.

Meet the Creature
The Echidna

What: The echidna
Why: If God created the world in seven days, then it seems he (Or she. – Ed) put the echidna together from leftover bits of the IKEA flatpack planet kit that he didn’t quite know what to do with. A true biological anomaly, this bizarre critter looks and behaves a little like a hedgehog, curling into a ball and displaying its spines in times of danger. Underneath, however, it’s a genetic freak. For a start, between the spikes and on the underside, the echidna is very soft and furry. It has no teeth, so it eats by breaking into termite nests with its snout, lapping the victims up with a inordinately long tongue. It’s an egg laying mammal, completely hairless when born and, during breeding time, several males will follow a female around like a psychedelic, spiky train.

Where: SA’s Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s biggest (and quite plausibly only) echidna research centre. But if you want to get away from scientists, then the Flinders Chase National Park on the island is absolutely crammed with them. Other good spots include Alligator Gorge near Mt Remarkable in the Flinders Ranges (SA) and Tower Hill Reserve, near Warrnambool (Vic). Alternatively, you can get up close to them at Australia Zoo (http://www.australiazoo.com.au/ or [07] 5436 2000) on the Sunshine Coast. They have a daily Spiny Little Echidna Experience at 3.15pm outside of breeding season. Zoo entry: $38 adults, $26 children.

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