An incredibly unique albino echidna has been spotted in Australia, wandering in Bathurst, a city about 120 miles northwest of Sydney.
“Short-beaked echidnas are very shy and somewhat elusive as it is, but to come across an albino short-beaked echidna is very rare,” a representative for the Bathurst Regional Council told Newsweek’s Pandora Dewan.
Raffie has albinism, a genetic condition that leads to lower production of the pigment melanin in the hair, skin and eyes. Some other animals are just partially white due to a different condition called leucism, which impacts melanin production in only some areas of the body.
John Grant, a spokesperson for the local wildlife rescue organization WIRES, tells the ABC he has only seen three or four albino echidnas come into the rehabilitation center in his ten years working there. Though it’s difficult to say exactly how often the pale creatures appear in the wild, “they’re not common, that’s for sure,” he tells the publication.
Because Raffie is a wild animal, Bathurst officials urged community members to avoid interacting with the celebrity creature. Human actions can cause echidnas stress or throw them off of their scent trail, which they use to find important locations such as their nesting burrow. Echidnas have bad vision and rely heavily on audio cues and smells to protect themselves from predators.
“We’re finding that people are more and more responsible around native wildlife,” Grant tells the ABC. “They know to keep their distance … keep any animals you have contained. It’s best just to leave them alone.”
Besides their keen sense of smell, echidnas’ spines are a key protection mechanism. When approached by predators, which include foxes, dogs, cats and dingoes, echidnas curl up into a spiky ball that’s painful to attack. In other threatening situations, they will dig a hole using their sharp claws and crawl into it, leaving only their spiny back out in the open air. While this is a useful defense against their natural predators, currently, echidnas are most threatened by cars, habitat loss and overhunting.
Echidnas are very important to their native habitats: When they dig up dirt for bugs and worms to feed on, echidnas mix the soil’s organic matter, which improves water filtration by breaking up the dirt chunks.
While short-beaked echidnas are considered mammals, they are one of only five species of mammals that lay eggs—four are different types of echidnas, and the other is the platypus. Within ten days, their eggs hatch to reveal a baby echidna, known as a puggle.
In 2017, an albino echidna puggle was found in a Tasmanian forest by wildlife photographer Rosalind Wharton, according to Earth Touch News’ David Moscato. Wharton intentionally shared only vague details about the puggle’s location in order to protect it from curious human visitors.
With Raffie, the Bathurst Regional Council did the same thing—their social media posts did not mention exactly where the animal was spotted. But the group did share some unique photos.
“We thought he is just too beautiful not to share, and particularly rare with only a handful of the mammals ever sighted in Australia,” wrote the group in an Instagram post. “If you see Raffie out, please feel free to take a couple of snaps.”