Casper the albino echidna goes for a walk before being released into a remote location at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Casper the albino echidna kept true to its namesake when released in a remote area of Canberra's Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve yesterday, quickly ghosting away in front of adoring rangers.
As soon as his claws touched ground he was digging, burying himself until only his spines could be seen protruding from the dry earth.
Casper was freed in Tidbinbilla after spending two weeks with RSPCA carer Lee Newton.
A motorist called the RSPCA after finding the echidna alongside a busy road in Pialligo in a distressed state.
Mrs Newton said he probably would have wandered into heavy traffic had he not been picked up.
Casper should find his new home to his satisfaction; ACT National Parks and Catchments, Parks and Conservation Service operations manager Brett McNamara said the release spot had been specifically chosen because it was close to termite mounds which would provide a convenient one-stop shop for Casper's breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Mr McNamara said there were hundreds of echidnas inhabiting the park.
But Casper is still unlikely to find another exactly like himself.
Echidna expert Peggy Rismiller has spent 25 years studying the small mammals. She has tracked more than 120 individuals, and has heard reports of true albino echidnas in Queensland, NSW and Tasmania, but none in the ACT.
''We get reports of white echidnas, but very rarely true albino echidnas,'' Dr Rismiller said. ''This echidna is a true albino because of the lack of pigmentation in the beak and claws, as well as its pink eyes.''
She said albinism occurred when genetic defects stopped the production or distribution of melanin, which colours skin, hair and the iris of the eye.
But Dr Rismiller said Casper's colour wouldn't affect interaction. ''Attracting a mate is done using pheromones, not looks,'' she said.
CSIRO director of Australian National Wildlife Collection Leo Joseph said there was a small chance Casper could pass on albinism.
''There's more than one gene that can cause it, but any descendants would need a copy from both parents … so it's pretty unlikely,'' he said.
Dr Rismiller said Casper could expect to enjoy a long life, so long as he avoided roads. About 92 per cent of echidna injuries and deaths occurred on roads.
''Otherwise, in the wild echidnas can live for about 50 years.''