These little creatures are called echidnas /ekidnaz/. They are (or were) plentiful in the bush, or country areas. I fear the fires will have killed many because they cannot run.
They eat insects, and are great in a garden, because they eat ants. Echidnas often used to come to my garden when I lived by the sea, and they were surprisingly friendly.
They are slightly weird though. They are mammals, they have webbed feet and fur, they lay eggs and they have a pouch. They are a bit like other Australian monotreme- the platypus. But the male platypus has venom in a spur on its side. It inhabits creeks and waterways, and because of the drought its habitat was already under threat.
pic from Wikipedia
It will be impossible to say how many animals and birds have died, because we have only a rough idea of the numbers that were there before the fires. Only animals under threat of extinction were counted, and even then, only approximate guesses were possible. So we may never know. Because habitat has been destroyed there is no food for animals in areas the bushfires have been through, so some food has been dropped nearby, by helicopter mostly.
People who are returning to where their homes were say the silence is deafening. No bird calls and no animals bounding through the trees. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” comes to mind.
Other parts of our beautiful state of Victoria are coming to the end of the summer seaside season. It was our big national holiday this week (Australia Day, 26 January, though there is some controversy, -a number of people call it Invasion Day), and it was a lovely sunny day, so the seaside spots that are not near the fires were busy and buzzing.
This is Ocean Grove, about 1 1/2 hours drive from Melbourne. You can just see the red and white lifesaving flags on the beach. This means you can swim between the flags because volunteer lifesavers are patrolling the area. Early in the mornings you will find the serious surfers out on their boards, because this is an ocean beach. But the water is quite cold,even in summer.
The black and white flag indicates an area for people with body boards and surf boards ,which are supposed to be out of the way of swimmers. I was in swimming here today and it was cold but invigorating.