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JackAdams's avatar

Why doesn't the Platypus survive in captivity?

Asked by JackAdams (6474points) September 18th, 2008

When I visited a zoo near Sydney (1991), I saw at least one specimen of every animal found in the wilds of Australia, except (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), the Platypus.

When I asked our zoo guide why they had none on display, he said, “They refuse to live in captivity. When we catch one and try to display it, they die shortly afterwards, even when we give them everything they could possibly want, they still don’t survive. We don’t know why that is, but they are the only animal on Earth, that is like that.” He then showed me and some other tourists, an exhibit that had plenty of photographs of them. They are indeed, IMHO one of the most fascinating creatures on our planet, and someone once said about them, “they appear to be what would have evolved, after a nuclear war.”

Is it true that this animal cannot live in captivity, or was the guide just telling me that, as some kind of “urban legend?” The Wikipedia listing claims that some have lived to age 17, “in captivity.”

Anyone (maybe a zoologist or veterinarian?) from OZ have the skinny on this, Mate?

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23 Answers

damien's avatar

I’m convinced I saw one (in a zoo) when I visited Australia nearly 10 years ago. I could well be imagining it, though.

There seems to be quite a few references to Platypuses (Platypi?) in captivity just from a quick Google search, so it looks like it has been done.

I think it’s arguable that every animal on earth is capable of being kept in captivity, some are just going to be a lot harder to get the conditions right for and to keep happy.

JackAdams's avatar

Thanks for your feedback.

One of the articles you referenced says, “The puggles, as baby platypuses are called, were born amid much excitement in October 2002. It was only the second time the duck-billed, web-foot mammal had been successfully bred in captivity.”

I guess I must conclude that perhaps the zoo guide’s statements may have indeed been true in 1991 (when he uttered them), but since that time, it appears that some zoologists have succeeded in doing what others before them, could not.

Perhaps one day during my remaining lifetime, a specimen might actually be brought to the USA for display?

That might be too much to ask…

bluemukaki's avatar

What the hell is ‘the skinny’?

I’ve never seen one in an Australian zoo (I have seen a few in the wild) either, the closest i’ve seen in captivity is the stuffed one in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Also I’d keep your hopes up for a world tour because we gave the Danes some Tasmanian Devils on a whim, maybe there’s more wildlife in stock?

tWrex's avatar

Well I’m guessing that it’s because they’re all trying to get their lips back from Cameron Diaz and they just can’t do that in captivity.

@bluemukaki “the skinny” is like asking what’s the deal with this. Just an expression.

JackAdams's avatar

@bluemukaki: According to the Dictionary, one of the definitions for skinny is:

5. Slang.
a. accurate information; data; facts.
b. news, esp. if confidential; gossip: “Here’s the skinny on the latest Hollywood scandal.”

AstroChuck's avatar

“The skinny” is what I’m never likely to be.

JackAdams's avatar

One of the world’s most popular supermodels, in her heyday, was super-skinny Twiggy

jjd2006's avatar

So what we’re saying here is…
The Platypus and Ghandi had similar outlooks: both believed they were better off dead unless conditions got better. They didn’t want to live in captivity—physical or societal.
That’d make a good essay. “Ghandi and the Platypus.”

JackAdams's avatar

Thanks for edging us back on topic.

I admire your cleverness, and urge everyone reading these posts to give you a “Great Answer” designation, as I have done.

I look forward to reading such an essay, when it is published. I imagine that it will one day be the subject of someone’s doctoral dissertation.

EnzoX24's avatar

Other than the platypus, the Great White shark is also unable to live in captivity.

JackAdams's avatar

You mean that someone has actually tried to do that?


Poser's avatar

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a great white shark at Sea World.

Poser's avatar

Might have been wrong about Sea World, but I found this.

EnzoX24's avatar


Thats interesting. I haven’t been up to date on recent trials of Great White captivity, but it does seem they are lasting longer. But as of yet there has still never been a successful attempt at keeping one through adulthood. Like the article said, in just about every case they would stop eating or start to hit the glass surrounding them.

jjd2006's avatar

@ Jack – Thanks for the love. :) I’ll look forward to reading that dissertation too!

charliecompany34's avatar

saw the pics: how did this happen? beaverduckotterseal orgy? wow.

JackAdams's avatar

Respectfully, I suppose that when the very first one was created, Gawd must have been drunk that day.

That’s the only explanation that makes any sense, because no one sober would have created such a creature.

shrubbery's avatar

There are definitely platypuses in captivity, there is even a wildlife park called ‘Platypus World’, and they do live a normal life-span. However, people have found it extremely difficult to breed them in captivity and attempts have as yet been unsuccessful.
Platypus numbers in the wild have been going down, though, unfortunately. I don’t know how widely known the problem is with our Tasmanian Devils and their face tumors? Well now apparently there is also a fungal disease currently attacking our Platypuses.

JackAdams's avatar

I am truly sorry to read of those maladies facing those animals.

I certainly hope that something is being done, to permanently correct those problems. I’m sure the Aussie veterinarians and zoologists are working around-the-clock to help those unique creatures…

Poser's avatar

I’m betting the reason no one has ever bred them in captivity is because they aren’t real. They’ve all just been superglued together at zoos using spare parts. Like crop circles, but with animals. World-wide conspiracy and whatnot.

Either that, or they’re highly intelligent extra-terrestrial life, living here to study earth.

scallywag's avatar

Temperature changes, lighting changes, short periods of transportation, new noises, strange smells, handling—any number of unfamiliar things can send a wild animal into intense stress reactions which will either begin with warning signs (pacing, vocalizing) and then build up as its hormones kick in fight-or-flight responses (trying to smash a way out, running, attacking), or immediately begin with severe symptoms. The chemical imbalance can then easily lead to many causes of death for any system which those chemicals affect, not to mention the animal’s own erratic and frantic self-destructive movements. Then they’ll appear to “calm down” but they’re really in some freaky state of tension where they are so volatile the tiniest event can kill them.

At least that’s what exotics class said.

Given that a zoo is just FULL of weird smells and sounds and snotty kids banging on the cages calling them freaks and beaverducks, and that the platypus has such complicated adaptations and such shy tendencies, being in a zoo for a platypus must be like being in the Vietnam War on acid for a human.

Not to degrade the hard work of vets and zoologists, but maybe all the corpses of captive platypus are just nature’s way of saying to humans “no you can’t have it, Timmy, put it back.” Appreciate it at a distance, you know?

And no, based on the death toll there is no way you could put a platypus in a little crate on a plane and expect to to land on US soil any kinds of alive, and why would you WANT to torture the little fella that badly?

StoneHawk's avatar

They can sense prey by the small amount of electricity they produce in there muscles. In captivity it is hard for them because they are constantly surrounded by high voltage electricity. That messes with their ability to find food. Also imagen is someone kidnaped you and but you in a cage where they constantly flashed super bright lights and blasted load screeching noises. That’s what its probably like for them. Great white sharks also use electroreception to locate food.
Monotremes (for the other species, see Echidna) are the only mammals known to have a sense of electroreception: they locate their prey in part by detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions. The platypus’ electroreception is the most sensitive of any monotreme.

Kat555's avatar

They do live in captivity, but they don’t reproduce well in captivity. There are platypus in Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

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