National Geographic : 1958 Oct
Courier-Mail, Brisnane Platypus Paul surveys Brisbane after a 60-mile flight to test his ability to withstand the rigorous four-day journey from Australia to New York. Author Fleay and a stewardess take their passenger on an airing. Pamela and Paddy remain under cover. that time I directed a sanctuary near Mel bourne; I now operate my own Fauna Reserve at West Burleigh, Queensland. In 1947 I trapped 19 platypuses and delivered three to the New York Zoological Park. They were Penelope, Cecil, and Betty Hutton. Betty died about six months after arriving in the Bronx. Penelope and Cecil spent 10 years there-the first platypuses ever to survive outside the down-under lands. Not long ago I received a series of letters from Dr. John Tee-Van, General Director of the New York Zoo. Penelope, he reported, had escaped from her platypusary and disap peared, and Cecil had died 49 days later. Would I, asked Dr. Tee-Van, replace the animals that had brought his zoo such renown? I pondered. For 25 years I have dealt with platypuses, and I have come to the conclusion that few members of the animal kingdom are so difficult to keep in captivity. The duckbill preserves some of the primitive reptilian characteristics of the early Mesozoic mammals, but it is highly developed in the way it has adapted to its natural surroundings and food 514 supply. Once caught, it will soon die if these are not duplicated.* Along with this specialization, it has a nervous system exceedingly well developed for a beast with such primitive features. Subject the nocturnal platypus to too much noise, light, and handling, keep it too wet or too dry, hold it in surroundings that do not remind it of home in the country-the result can be panic, frantic rushing about, death within 24 hours. In the end I agreed to undertake the mis sion. Whereas 10 years ago I had brought my duckbills to the United States by steamer, this time I was asked to fly. Now when you want to fly a platypus from Australia to New York, you must first catch your platypus. I started by deciding I would take youngsters, since they would know least about life in the wild and thus adapt best to confinement. Young animals are available * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Australia's Patchwork Creature, the Platypus," by Charles H. Holmes, August, 1939; and "Biggest Worm Farm Caters to Platypuses," by W. H . Nich olas, February, 1949.