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Entry 23 - Echidna's - First week

LIttle pin cushions

semi-overcast 0 °F

23 Australia Diary – May 9 – July 13 – Seventh Week – Kangaroo Island #1.


Saturday, June 24 – arrival on the island

Early cab to airport to fly Qantas. It will only be a one -way flight as they are discontinuing service to the island, so they have changed my reservation to Rex Air.

I love the Adelaide Airport. It is small, very new and clean and very easy to navigate. I also adore the concourse numbering. The main sign said gates 21-50. Here is the gate numbering - 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, small bit of wall, 50. I think the others are invisible just like platform 9 ¾!

At the gate there were two little boys enamored with the Saturday am cartoons, but before I could get my camera into position, their dad took them off to the plane. I met Linzee and Ryan who will be on the EW team with me. Linzee said we would be a very small team of only 4 - 3 US and 1 Aussie. I knew the limit was 6 so it sounded logical.

The plane was very small, only about 30 seats and my seat neighbor was going to the island for a detox. He only accepted water on the plane and said that would be his diet for three days and then they would allow him clear liquids.

Peggy. The PI (primary investigator) meet us at the airport – It turns out we will be a team of 6, including a young English boy and local Aussie man as well. There will also be Mike, Peggy’s partner/husband and who is a photographer, biologist, and general dogs body for the project

Linzee – Atlanta - 30 – started her own company designing and selling hats
Ryan – Western Conn – 16 – rising HS senior and going into science
Pat – Barossa Valley, Aust – 65 – volunteer of the year – conversation volunteer and plant lover
Ben – Derby, England – 18 – 6 months in OZ as both parents are on a 6-month teaching exchange
John – K Island – Aussie Navy, Nurse, Conservationist

We loaded into the van for a 45-minute ride. The island has lots of flat areas and several areas of rolling hills. Along the main road we saw our first echidna that was crossing the road. How exciting! Peggy said that this was a good omen and that we should see lots of them during our stay. Very cute, looks like a walking pincushion walking along about the size of a large purse.

Peggy told us lots of facts about the island such as it is the third largest island for Australia behind Tasmania and ????. It is also devoid of several of the introduced species that have caused such havoc on the mainland such as the rabbits, and therefore it is an excellent research area for the work. There are still some problems with local dogs and cats, but recent laws have made it easier for the landowner to make sure their impact is at a minimum. All dogs must be registered and micro chipped. All owned cats must be de-sexed, registered and chipped. A dog or cat caught on your land without chip, can be trapped and it not chipped, put down. More on this later.

There are still only a few of the main roads paved and the last bit of the road leading to the research area was bone jarring and not for cars with low carriage.

Peggy and her partner/husband Mike live in a totally environmentally friendly sustainable compound built by them over the last 30 years. We would have sufficient power if the sun shone and the rest was on 12-volt batteries. I was pleased that I had left my computer back at the YHA and only brought along the car adapter to recharge my camera battery.

As we arrive, we met the rest of the team - Pat, Ben who had arrived via the ferry from the mainland, and John who lives on the island in American River. The boys would sleep in one tent, John selected another tent and the three ladies were put into a building that could sleep 4. Our room had iron beds with double mattresses and mosquito netting, that we will not need during this cold season. It was very cold when we arrived, and I knew that my light sleeping bag would not do the job. There were wool blankets and as the other ladies had better bags, I took an extra one for my bed.

We had the tour of our composting toilet a short walk from our door that was in the same building as our shower. Hot showers would be available every other day when the boiler would be lit. To take a shower the procedure involved lowering the can that held two buckets of water, filling it from the hot water from the boiler and the cold water tap to the desired temperature, raising the bucket again, going into the shower room, stripping and turning on the hose pipe tap above the shower head. You had to turn it off to suds up and soap up your hair, or you would run out of hot water. It was cold enough on the first day, I did not know if I wanted to get out of my clothes for a shower, but I did not need to make that decision until tomorrow.

We were also shown the flush toilet, also close to our door. We were encouraged to use it wisely if at all. Also in the room was a sink tap with a basin to catch the water. The used water was to be put into a bucket next to the stand. In the bucket was a stick that was taller than the bucket. This was for the possums that might want a drink. If the stick was removed, they might drown. We were also encouraged to always close the lids on whatever toilet we were using as the possums might fall in.

Local livestock that we would get a chance to see include Western Grey Kangaroos (really appeared dark brown) with the head of the mob, Rooby, a 14 year old female who was very sweet and loved to have Peggy talk to her and feed her carrots. Also Tammar Wallabys (now practically gone from the mainland), Brush Tail Possums, echidnas, goanna’s (monitor lizards pronounced GO- Anna) and assorted other spiders, snakes, bats and birds.

We took a short orientation walk and began to learn the plants we would need to know over the next two weeks and how to identify echidna, wallaby, possum, roo, ant and goanna sign. From the initial walk it became painfully obvious that the shoes I brought will not work, as they have no ankle support and not enough sole.

Our meals will be prepared on a rotating basis with the first few days being handled by Peggy, Mike and John. A conch shell calls us to meals and a gong of a wooden pestle against a bundt pan, to the table. Tonight, spaghetti bolognaise and bread.

Peggy ended our first evening with a slide show about echidnas. I also had my first possum sighting through the kitchen window. In New Zealand they are considered a pest because they are not indigenous, but boy are they cute! Much cuter than their North American cousins.

We also had our safety lecture on where all the important numbers were, the phone, and if we heard three blows on the conch shell, that signaled an emergency and we were to gather at the kitchen.

I had borrowed an additional fleece sleeping bag liner and then prepared my nest for sleeping. I slept warmly but had a hard time getting back to sleep after early am potty break. Most of us have some sort of allergy going on and therefore, sleeping is not a silent affair.

ECHIDNA FACTS I HAVE LEARNED – Most of this discovered and documented by Peggy over the last 18 years of research.

Echidnas are a monotreme- an egg-laying mammal, one of only two species – echidna and platypus. Australia has two of the three species, the platypus and the short beaked echidna. New Guinea has the third one, the long beaked echidna.

The echidna is an insectivore, not specifically an anteater. They have a beak in that there is a bone that extends to the end of their nose. They are incredibly smart with their frontal lobe forming 50% of their brain. (Humans is only 30%). They have 5 toes with claws in the front, and 5 toes with claws in the back. Depending on the length of the back toes, you can determine where the echidna comes from. KIsland echidnas have their 1st back toe claws as the largest, vs. those on Tasmania, where three of the 5 back toes are long.

Their spines are actually adapted individual hairs that they shed occasionally. Each spine can be moved independently from the rest, which assists the animal in covering itself when it digs down into the dirt. The most unique thing about the echidna is that their front legs face front and their back legs face back. The fingerprint of the echidna is suspected to be their upper palate that is unique for each one. As they forage for food, they stick their beaks in the ground and when they find a tasty bug, their tongue that is up to 7 cm long, can flick in and out of their mouths 100 times per minute. Then they bring the bug into their mouth, crush it against their top palate and the tough patch at the back of their tongue and swallow.

Echidnas live a solitary life and only get together for breeding. When the female becomes sexually mature, during the breeding season you will find a female followed by several males in an echidna train. No one knows how she selects the male that eventually breeds her. They become sexually mature at 10 and it is estimated that they can live up to 60 years. It is hard to determine the sex of the animals as they have a coacha and the normal external genitals are housed in the body. The male has a hemipenis, a single shaft with four different parts at the head. The female holds on to a tree while the males dig a circular trench around and under her. Copulation can take between 30 minute and two hours. Once they are done, they both separate.

At this point, it is suspected that she only mates with one male, but more research is needed. Copulation usually leads to a birth within 22 days by the presence of a single egg in the mothers pouch. Not pouches as known in the kangaroo, both sexes of the echidna have the ability on their belly to bring the sides of the belly together to form a pouch. 10 days after the egg has arrived in the pouch, the egg is opened and the pink jellybean called a puggle, attaches to the hairs of the mothe’s belly and heads for the two milk patches on her upper chest. She has no nipple, but the milk leaks on to the hairs where the puggle licks it up. The puggle clings for 50 days and goes from jellybean to golf ball size. At this point, mum leaves the puggle in a hopefully secure burrow and returns to feed it for two hours every 5 days. Hard to believe but the baby takes in twice it’s weight during each feed and finally exits the burrow after 7 months. Mum hangs around for a few days and then they separate and go back to individual lives.

The current ratio of male to female echidnas on KIsland is 2 males to 1 female.

Sunday, June 25

2nd day and I woke before the conch went at 7:30 am. Breakfast is usually a selection of cereals, fruit, toast, butter, peanut butter, jam, juice and coffee or tea. I went for cereal and fruit

Today I borrowed Peggy’s pink with bright green laces converse high top tennis shoes and I am the height of fashion. Photo to prove it provided.

PHOTO of shoes

This morning we continued the familiarization tour with Mike. He also is an amazing biologist and can give us the convoluted interrelationships between plant, animal, earth, air, water, people and any other possible agent that might interact with one of the others on the list. How do two people know so much about so much? I am impressed and in awe.

Lunch – Taco meat with corn chips that tasted wonderful.

The afternoon was learning how to track in the field. Peggy set up 6 different transmitters in the perimeter of the workroom. We were given the receiver and the antenna (think of the letter H with an additional arm going up and down and that is the antenna) and the list of the frequencies we were to find. I ended up finding 2 of my 6 within the time St. Bees. These receivers were different from the last ones, much smaller and would hang around your neck, the frequencies were already programmed in and there was no needle to show the bounce, but a bar that would indicate intensity. I realized after today and that I was most likely taking too few steps in between taking my readings. I ended the workday frustrated and full of self-doubt.

Shower night – by 5pm the boiler had been lit under the container for hot water. We determined the queue and for the first set of showers, we assisted the person behind us to lower the plastic container down so that it could be filled and then lifted the container back up. TAAA DAA! You are clean, a little chilly, but clean. During shower night, Peggy also fires up the computer so that we could check our emails. By the time I got there, the machine was in an endless loop, so no contact with the outside world for me tonight.

The only animal that had been spotted and brought in today was a goanna brought in by John, our goanna spotter and catcher extraordinaire. Turns out to be Slinky, a female Rosenberg Goanna (Go- Anna – a varanid lizard or called a monitor lizards around the globe) in thin condition. Peggy wants to put a different transmitter in her, but will wait until the warmer months, as the stress of surgery is extra hard on them in the winter when it is cold. In order that we can still track her, Peggy installed a tail transmitter on the outside of her body with epoxy glue and we labeled her with a large S in whiteout at the base of her tail. She will lose it when she sheds her skin within the next 6-8 months. She was weighed, measured, had her ticks removed (which apparently is a common problem in all of the island animals), and was well photographed before she was released.

Today, Peggy also took in a wounded echidna that had been run over by a car with a possible crushed pelvis, dislocated back legs and internal injuries. She was put in a box with some leaf litter and moved to quiet area so that she could recover from the shock.

Dinner – fish sticks, veggies, potatoes apricot upside down cake ala chef Peggy. John and I were on dish duty. The cook prepares the three meals, breakfast and lunch dishes were the responsibility of each individual and there was a pair assigned to do the dinner dishes. Normally, one of the pair would be on kitchen duty the next day.

Peggy and Mike are quintessential biologists/environmentalists/conservationists/good eggs. Expert in so many complimentary things. Extensive library with resources, you have only to mention a mild interest in a topic and they leap to their feet and bring out a book to answer you question.

Monday, June 26

We received our data collection kits after breakfast. – 2 film canisters, ruler, marker, yellow and green biodegradable ribbon (yellow for goanna, green for echidna), thermometer, spoon, plastic sandwich bags to collect interesting poo, red canvas shopping bag to bring back goannas, Hessian bag (burlap) to bring back echidna’s. We also received our receiver, compass, map and aerial photo of the peninsula and the list of animal frequencies. I should be able to get lost anywhere!

Our second time at tracking practice that went much better – 4 in one hour! YAAH! Our last tracking exercise was the retrieve the first one we found yesterday, with or without the use of the receiver. I found number 9 and this transmitter has become my pet. Whenever I was in the field, I was to carry it with me and if I needed assistance, I will to turn it on and help would arrive. Peggy or Mike would check at a specified time daily to see if any of us needed assistance.

Photo of Pet #9

After lunch of soup and sandwiches, we went as a group to release Slinky back to her burrow and learned how to mark and measure a burrow.

I got lost and therefore, plugged in during my first solo afternoon in the field. During my justification phase of my breakdown, I felt I was better with feeding and caring for animals than being a scientist. I whinged silently to myself how I could not care less about plants and their inter-relationships with animals, but to be effective in this team, we were encouraged to learn not only about the animal, but also what they eat, etc. Similar to the St. Bee’s island EW, we don’t really spend that much time with the animals as compared to the wallaby placement. All ongoing animal placements are with I to I or Enkosini that are more about care giving than fieldwork. I finally starting recording absolutely everything that I came across that was labeled and identifiable, every termite mound, every marked location, weather station, any marker that was labeled.

We came in to find fresh popcorn during our download from the day. Similar results for all of us. I realize that I will be more comfortable if I can become familiar with a certain area and return to it to see what has changed since the last time I was there.

Dinner was pork chops – ala John.

Tuesday, June 27.

Didn’t sleep well but not due to cold. Lots of weird dreams.

On the way to the field, as I entered the workroom, I disturbed a little bat who fell on his back. Pat picked him up and set him on the ledge and by the time Mike went up to find him, he had flown away. Hew!

The morning we were sent to find goannas with the trackers. I located a strong signal almost immediately and tracked for 40 minutes until I found a goanna with a tail transmitter sunning. I was looking for Fern with a tail transmitter who was supposed to be blind. As I approached the goanna with the bag, it appeared to look at me and went into her burrow. Yaaah. Then I stuffed the hole with my bag, turned on my pet, and began to take all my measurement. Peggy arrived 40 minutes after I turned on my pet and determined that I did not have Fern, I had Slinky from yesterday. (I must remember to verify which frequency I am tracking before I signal for help!) The one interesting thing is that this was not the burrow where she had been returned. She seems to like real estate.

During lunch of soup and pasties, neighbors Annie and Doug came to visit. Annie is British and very talkative with a large operatic voice. Doug is Australian and very quiet and a clever craftsman with wood. This meal will go down in history as the one with the discussion about the Runstable Spoon from the Owl and the Pussycat poem. 10 points if you know what a Runstable Spoon is without looking it up!

Some times, we would revisit a burrow and place a temperature monitor on two bamboo sticks into the hole. We did this on the way out into the field for the afternoon. Depending on the animal and Peggy’s interest, an animal may have an internal monitor of heart rate, temperature as well as a tracking transmitter, the burrow may have external monitors for air temperature and ground temperature.

I was going across the valley today between #12 on the map and lunnet bay. I became disoriented and began to panic. I thought I was SW but by the time I was back, I had gone the NE. (Question – if you are lost and have a map, compass and a GPS, if you think you are in one place and find up you are in another place, are you still lost? YES. If you did not remember to get a GPS point for home base on your device, can you get home? NO). As the light was fading, I ended up turning on my pet at 5:03 and began crashing through brush in the general southern direction to home. I had a vibes hit to zip my pocket with the GPS. I had a vibe hit to put the GPS in my backpack. I ignored both of them. During this time I began justifying myself and making everyone around me wrong, and felt that I was only a two dimensional thinker. I was also frustrated because there was no better way to communicate in the field (walky talky, etc) than the pets. I finally made it to a road and began walking. Luckily, along came Peggy in the car, returning from the vet with the injured echidna, and found me at 5:20. I was frustrated, upset, angry and feeling very over my head. When I got back to the camp, I realized I had also lost my map and the GPS as well. I contacted Anthony and the Angels and asked for assistance finding the GPS. Peggy says that the Great Puggle looks over the peninsula, so I added that to the list. Mike and Peggy were very nice and we planned to retrace my steps to find the GPS. Second major breakdown of the trip!

Peggy and the wounded echidna had been to the vet and sure enough, two dislocated back legs that were put back into place. As the accident had happened on Juniper Dr., we called her Juniper. The sex was still unknown, but we felt that Juniper was a generic enough name.

Dinner, thanks to Mike was roo stir-fry and papadums that I helped to fry. Yummy.

I had a vibe hit before I went to bed to check the car for the GPS.

Wednesday, June 28

I slept really well and went to the car before breakfast. WWWWEEEEE!!!! The GPS was found, just where I had dropped it. I resolved today to never leave home without my GPS programmed with standard points where I can return. ANTHONY and the GREAT PUGGLE are the best!

The morning was spent learning how to record our data on the charts. I then accompanied John, who is very experienced and knows the peninsula very well, into the field to return two goannas to burrows. He is an excellent tracker and knows all the shortcuts between areas.

Lunch was Chinese noodle soup.

The kitchen building has a wonderful living area with a comfy mattress and huge pillows on the floor for curling up and reading. Also in the dining room, there is a great nook with pillows and that is where I took a little nap in the nock.

During the afternoon, I went between 2-12 and the beach. I FOUND AN ECHIDNA POO – As Peggy says, it is only clean shit on the island, i.e., there are no diseases that we can get from the animals or their poo. In addition to picking up the poo, I collected a bag full of echidna yummies for Juniper. This involved taking the bark off a fallen log and spooning the insects into the bag with dirt. Back to the poo, seriously, the poo that I picked up from the echidna does not smell. Considering that they are insectivores and they snuffle around in the dirt, the poo was the size and shape of a tootsie roll and had a very thin membrane around it. The bulk of it is compressed dirt with tiny shiny bits from the insects that they eat.

Dinner was tortellini and focaccia bread, salad and brownies ala Peggy. Tomorrow, the team begins to prepare meals.

After dinner entertainment was the video of Echidna, the Survivor.

GOANNA FACTS again, mainly thanks to Peggy’s research

Goanna’s are varinade lizards (monitor lizards). Monitor lizards are found only in the southern hemisphere except for South America. This lizard is disappearing from the mainland, again, due to lose of habitat and predation by cats and rats.

The goannas on KIsland are Rosenberg’s Goannas and are identified by their ringed tail and the spots on their bodies. It is believed that this type of marking is type of pattern used by the early aboriginal people in their art of dot painting.

Goannas have a parietal eyelid (nictitating membrane over their eye) and they close their eyes by bringing the lower lid up to meet the top lid. They also have an identifiable third eye on the top of their head, which is not a real eye, but an opening to the pineal gland in their brain.

These lizards have a hemepenis (bivorcated with two small heads). A couple will stay together during the 4-6 week breeding season with multiple encounteres. He will mount from the side and will alternate sides throughout the season.

Once the season is over, the female will begin investigating suitable termite mounds to lay her eggs. When she is ready to lay (I can’t remember how long between the end of the season and her laying) she selects a mound and digs in. She then leaves it alone and if the termites rebuild it within one day, she may select it for her eggs. When she is ready, she digs in, enters the burrow and turns around, sticks her nose out and then goes into a trance. It will take her up to 2 hours to lay her 12 eggs. Then she and the male hang around the termite mound for several days to protect and defend the eggs. It is not uncommon for the local males to come by and try and destroy the egg nest.

The eggs incubate for over 200 days and by the end of it, the young lizards emerge from the mound. It is not known when they hatch and how long they stay in the mound before they emerge. Based on Peggy’s work, 1 out of 12 survives. She suspects that it is a combination of the temperature, humidity, CO2 atmosphere and the food source for the young, that allows for successful hatching of the eggs.

Peggy is still trying to find out the age of sexual maturity and their life expectancy. Note to the mainland – if you want goanna’s, you have to have viable termite mounds on your land. This is contraindicated because the preferred termite mounds are from the termites that do the most damage to humans’ buildings. Hmmmmm?

Thursday, June 29

Breaky and then off to track Fern again. Linzee has been suffering from allergies and a little too much late night star gazing and slept in.

No sign of Fern (again) and I met up with John as we were returning from our respective searches for lunch. Right there on the path, ANOTHER ECHIDNA POO, which John said, was very fresh! John scouted around, but no additional sign.

Lunch by Ryan was chicken pies, chips and salad.

Most of the group stayed at the house today to watch the two goanna surgeries that Peggy was doing to insert monitors into two large male, but Pat and I went into the field to more searching.

Feeling confident with my ability to get home without panicking, I followed my nose. I thought for sure I had heard an echidna close to the sleeping shed, but no luck. Went back to the shoreline and found ANOTHER ECHIDNA POO! I also was given the gift of a pair of bottlenose dolphins close to shore, a mom and an exuberant adolescent. No sign of echidna near 12 that had left poo earlier today.

Dinner – Roo Hamburgers.

Tomorrow we have a day off and the team will go with Mike to visit other areas of the island. After dinner, we watched the slides of Peggy and Mike in New Guinea, and their work to assist with research on the Long Beaked Echidna. Very interesting. If I have found any of my Australia placements rustic, New Guinea would have been positively primitive!

Friday, June 30 – Day off

Slept until the extraordinary hour of 7:45 am. During our day off, we would be going to see penguins, the shoreline, the eucalyptus distillery, participate in coffee drinking, laundry doing and pelican feeding in Kingscote.

At 9:00 am, Mike, Linzee, Ben, Ryan, Pat and I took off.

First stop – Penneshaw Bay shoreline for me to bruise my knee on the rocks and Ben to be accosted by a Pied Cormorant who wanted Linzee’s sliver camera.

Photo and Quen and I and the cormorant

Eucalyptus Distillery at Emu Bay – After the tour, we visited the nesting pair of emu’s, where the male sits on the eggs for 8 weeks and loses 75% of his body condition. The owner will replace the current infertile eggs after 4 weeks and hope to encourage him off the nest.
The farm, formerly a sheep farm, has risen from the ashes when the bottom went out of the sheep market, by farming and marketing tea, emu oil and eucalyptus oil. It was interesting to see their process and to sample their products. I bought some tea tree oil as the bottle I brought from home is running low.

As I mentioned earlier in this report, feral cats and stray dogs are dealt with differently than in the US. The feral cat problem in Australia is considerable when you look at the native wildlife. Similar to the introduced rabbit, rat and cats, all introduced species wreak havoc on native wildlife. Mike and the gentlemen who runs the euc facility view cats as a menace to be caught and euthanized. The statistics of how much destruction a feral mother cat and her litter can do over three years was mind-boggling. Mike found a mother cat on his land stalking, catching, killing and then dragging 6 goannas within one hour to her layer to teach her kittens how to hunt. It is a difficult topic to discuss for us cat lovers and hearing the other side of story has been eye opening and thought provoking.

We ate our picnic lunch at Duck Lagoon, which is really a billabong, a river that has over blown its banks. We did spot on koala napping in a tree and as later walked under the tree, also found a dead one. Black Swans, several types of ducks and tons of other wild birds could be seen and heard during this stop.

As you may have read, Australia has been under severe drought over the past few years. There has also been a major change in the capacity of most of the farmland to sustain crops and livestock. The main problem is over use, no crop rotation or allowing field to rest and increasing salt contamination from ground water contamination and the decrease in native plants. During Mike’s discussions, he has shown us the wisdom of allowing the native plants to be reintroduced to help balance the nutrients in the ground and to enhance the chances of the wildlife to return and complete the cycle. Nature has no judgment, if all the components are in place, it is healthy and thrives. When it is out of balance, it requires rest in order to come back into equilibrium.

During our Kingscote stop, we had time for a little shopping, real coffee, much needed laundry and up close and personal pelican feeding. Australia has the smallest penguins (the Blue or Fairy Penguins) and the largest pelicans. When they stand, their heads are higher than mine. This is one of many sites around the waterways where local people buy and supply fish for the pelicans. As he pays for the fish that he buys from the local fisherman out of his pocket, he asks for donations from the crowd that gathers daily. $2 a head in not too much to ask. The birds are huge and very handsome. At times it looked like the gulls got more than the pelicans, but I imagine they make sure they get their share most of the time.

We had dinner with Coral, who usually cooks for the team early in their time at the lagoon. She and Peggy made 4 wonderful pizzas and the meal finished with a fabulous pavlova covered in fruit. Coral is quite a collector and her house was filled with dolls, fairies and little figurines. She also works for the local art gallery that we visited after hours. The art co-op had marvelous original art at incredibly low prices.


Linzee and the guys have developed quite a close friendship. It is hard to find one of them alone as they move as a unit. Some of the language was getting a little salty and there were insults and corrections flying amongst the three. On the way back home in the car, the Group decided to take on the game of putting a $1 in a jar for every swear word or unkind act that they instigated. The game begins tomorrow.

As Peggy has done the weeks grocery shopping, we unpacked the car and were in bed by 11pm. Horrors! as we have been in bed by 9 most nights. A very short night with LOTS OF RAIN.

Posted by ladyjanes 20:44 Archived in Australia

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