Often people say they haven’t seen an echidna for a long time, but the presence or absence of echidnas is often not noticed because echidnas are elusive and do not interact with humans as they go about their lives. The annual Echidna Count is a method to quantify how many echidnas are being seen during a specific period each year when people are looking out for them, and to compare the numbers each year. We will never know how many echidnas there are in the valley because there is no place to go to look for them, and their tracks and scats are not noticed. It is only the sightings we can count.
Thank you to all those who kept a look-out for echidnas during the Echidna Count week this year. The project is here: https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/projects/2023-kangaroo-valley-echidna-count.
The 2023 Echidna Count saw a significant reduction of sightings of echidnas compared with the previous two years’ Counts. In the first Echidna Count in 2021, 49 echidna sightings were recorded. In 2022 there were 50 recorded. However, in 2023 only 19 were recorded. Clearly the reduction in number of sightings should alert us to consider factors that might be impacting echidnas or affecting the sightings recorded.
There are probably many factors affecting the numbers. Roadkill is one. An observer from last year said that she has not seen any echidnas this year, since the echidna that lived around their place was killed on the road. Echidna road statistics are scant because they are small animals and are often not noticed to be recorded in roadkill data. Only two have been recorded as roadkill in the valley since the last Count, and those did not include the one mentioned above.
One big difference in 2023 was the weather. There were heatwave conditions on a few of the days of this year’s Count, with some unusually hot days of 30º and above, and the weather had been drier than normal. It was the hottest September on record around the globe. There were bushfires and grass fires starting around the state. How echidnas respond to heat is something that we need to research.
By contrast, the Count week in 2021 had warm days and cool nights, and although that September was a fairly dry month, there was good rain on the first day of that Count. And in 2022 the Count week had a number of wet days, which is ideal for echidnas because it brings their food, the invertebrates, closer to the surface of the soil.
Another factor affecting the Count is that in 2023 life is becoming busier, getting back to the faster pace of the pre-Covid era, resulting in people having less time to observe their environment. There were fewer people in the valley because many residents have been travelling abroad this year, and less people are holidaying in the regions.
By contrast, when the first Count was held in 2021, Covid was still restricting what people could do, some states were still in lockdown (not NSW), and vaccinations were just rolling out. There was no overseas travel. And in the week of the second Count in 2022, travel abroad was still limited, and there was a lot of domestic holidaying within Australia. There had been flooding and landslips earlier in the year. There was high Covid awareness, with mask wearing and precautions. So there were more people with more time to notice echidnas than there were this year.
We are in the early days of monitoring; this was only the third annual Count. With long-term data we will be able to see patterns and to recognise the impact of weather, and of other influences on echidna behaviour and wellbeing. But even taking into account the different human circumstances and weather, the drop in recorded sightings this year might indicate some level of decline.
By the way, during the year between the 2022 and 2023 Echidna Counts, 37 echidna sightings in the Valley were recorded in iNaturalist, which can be seen here: https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/observations?d1=2022-09-19&d2=2023-09-10&place_id=175827&taxon_id=43239.
for Kangaroo Valley Environment Group