The San Diego Zoo Safari Park's latest inhabitants may look cute zipping, diving and splashing in their new exhibit, but this pair of platypuses from the "Down Under" will play a much larger role to conservationism, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) says.
Birrarung and Eve, an 8-year-old male and 15-year-old female, are the first platypuses to live outside of their native Australia in a half-century, according to SDZG spokesperson Rick Schwartz.
The pair will act as the only U.S. ambassadors for their species, promoting awareness about the vulnerable platypuses and sharing the importance of protecting their habitats -- freshwater streams increasingly threatened by pollution and climate change, the zoo said.
Their transfer to the United States has been three years in the making, Schwartz said. Birrarung and Eve arrived at the Safari Park from the Taronga Zoo Sydney in late October but their exhibit at the park's "Walkabout Australia" opened to the public on Friday.
The Nelson A. Millsberg Platypus Habitat, the platypuses' permanent home, has three pools for Birrarung and Eve to splash in, naturalistic river banks, extensive tunnels, and nesting areas, the zoo said.
Birrarung and Eve are not at the zoo for the purposes of breeding but veterinarians are prepared for if it does occur.
Platypuses are nocturnal, so the best chance for guests to get a glimpse of these strange, semi-aquatic mammals is at night.
With a duck-like bill and feet, and a beaver-like body, it took scientists 80 years to figure out what the platypus was. Schwartz said it's as if the platypus was "put together by a committee."
Platypuses lay eggs, one of only two mammals to do so, and are venemous. They don't have teeth so they break down their food -- mostly insect larvae, shrimp and crayfish -- using pieces of gravel.
The mammal is on the vulnerable species list but the San Diego Zoo says they don't know enough about the species to understand why their numbers are low. The Zoo plans to sponsor a study of their environmental habitat to find out.
To learn more about Birrarung and Eve and the zoo's efforts to protect the platypus, visit here.