A lot of people like to brag about their claim to fame. Maybe their uncle once dated Claudia Schiffer… maybe their great-grandfather invented the cuckoo clock… perhaps a distant cousin on their mother’s side was in the team of scientists who discovered penicillin… whatever is is, you go ahead and brag about it.
I’m going to brag about mine now.
My claim to fame is… I’m related to the platypus.
What is a platypus, you ask? He’s this guy.
This adorable little critter. An egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal that had some people thinking it was a hoax when it was first discovered. They’re found only in the south of Australia in the wild, and have apparently never been successfully relocated and kept in captivity out of the country. So if you want to see one in the flesh, you’ll have to go visit.
My great-grandfather, William Elverd, was the curator of Healesville Sanctuary, in Victoria, from 1930-33, and brought up the first wild platypus in captivity. Don’t google it folks, it doesn’t exist. But in any case, there is evidence that Elverd was responsible for keeping a platypus alive in captivity for almost 200 days, a great accomplishment of the time. The little dude’s name was Glennie, and as he’s my great-grandfather’s adopted animal-child, this proves that I am related to the platypus.
In the 1930s almost nothing was known about these creatures, except that they inevitably died when they came into contact with humans. So to corroborate my bragging, following are some excerpts from newspaper articles at the time:
“…broken all records for length of time in captivity…”
“…six of us at the platypussary watched while the curator (Mr Elverd) lured the platypus right onto the bank, where the duckbill muzzled greedily amid an open handful of squirming worms and shrimps.”
Elverd reported that Glennie was a nightmare to take care of, requiring at least two hours daily, a lot of this devoted to feeding – the little bugger ate a quarter of his weight in worms and tadpoles every day – that’s more than 500 worms to be collected. How do I know so much, you ask? My family has some of my great-grandfather’s journals from the time, detailing Glennie’s daily activities. Unfortunately, after 200 days, Glennie sadly passed… yeah, sorry about that.
Still, his short life marked the beginning of an era into platypus research which has led to a greater understanding of the shy creatures. In 1943, naturalist David Fleay bred the first platypus in captivity at the Sanctuary, a place that is to this day, internationally renowned for its platypus care – in fact the logo for Healesville Sanctuary incorporates the platypus in its design.
These days the Sanctuary has a very flash and modern platypus enclosure – you can even go wading with them! And the world’s oldest platypus celebrated his 25th birthday there last October – given their average lifespan is 20 years, that’s pretty extraordinary.
There’s a picture of my great-grandfather with Glennie at Healesville Sanctuary to this day. I took hubby there to visit my long-lost relative a few years back – I figured he needed to know what he was marrying into.
And who would have thought – the crazy Austrian married me anyway.