Captive maintenance and breeding at zoos

Platypus are currently maintained at a number of zoos or aquaria, but are not (as of 2017) on public display anywhere outside Australia.

Platypus appear to have been first displayed to the Australian public in 1910 by Harry Burrell at the Sydney Zoological Garden, which was then located at Moore Park. One animal was successfully maintained in a system of tanks and tunnels for three months, eating a mixed diet of freshwater shrimps, earthworms, beetle grubs and pond snails. The animal was eventually released into a pond at another urban park, when the approaching winter created difficulties in providing it with an adequate supply of food.

Contemporary protocols governing the husbandry of captive platypus are fundamentally similar to those adopted by Burrell. Animals occupy facilities which provide feeding tanks or pools linked to nest boxes by narrower tunnels. They are fed live invertebrate food, mainly comprising freshwater crayfish or yabbies (Cherax sp.), fly pupae, mealworms and earthworms. Tubifex worms, fly-maggots and crickets may also be provided. Uneaten food is removed from tanks each day, and feeding tanks are emptied and scrubbed regularly. The cost of purchasing substantial quantities of crayfish, along with the large amount of staff time devoted to keeping tanks and their surrounds clean, means that platypus are one of the most expensive native mammals to be kept in Australian zoos.

A platypus was bred in captivity for the first time by David Fleay at Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria. The mother (named Jill) was originally brought to the Sanctuary in 1938, after being rescued by two men who found her trudging along a road. The father (named Jack) was captured by Fleay as a young juvenile in 1939, after being spotted swimming in a local creek. The pair was recorded mating for the first time in October 1943 and produced a juvenile female (christened Corrie) who was successfully raised to adulthood.

Successful reproduction in captivity did not occur again until the summer of 1998/1999, when two juvenile males hatched at Healesville Sanctuary, with one surviving to maturity. Since that time, platypus have also been bred successfully at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Second generation breeding (i.e. by a pair of animals who had themselves been zoo-bred) occurred for the first time at Healesville Sanctuary in 2008/2009.

Further reading:

Fleay, D. (1944). We Breed the Platypus. Robertson and Mullens, Melbourne.

Krueger, B., Hunter, S. and Serena, M. (1992). Husbandry, diet and behaviour of Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus at Healesville Sanctuary. International Zoo Yearbook 31: 64-71.