With bulging, puffy eyes, inflamed skin and bald patches, Matilda the echidna has become a medical marvel.
She now holds the title as the world’s only echidna – also known as a spiny anteater – to be allergic to ants, which is her sole food source.
She first arrived at Melbourne’s Healesville Sanctuary as a baby after her burrow was accidentally dug up at a nearby property.
So when vets noticed eye and skin changes almost two years later they set to find out what was wrong and the results surprised even the most seasoned campaigners.
Sanctuary vet Claire Madden said her allergy was bizarre and the first of its kind recorded in the world.
‘Ants make up 100 per cent of their diet, with some dirt,’ she said.
‘So understandably we were in a bit of shock at the finding.’
Without an option of an alternative diet, veterinary dermatologists at the Melbourne Veterinary Specialist Centre developed two vaccines to train Matilda’s immune system to tolerate the creepy crawlies.
Without treatment, Matilda was at risk of getting a deadly infection or losing her sight.
‘We could not remove ants from her environment because that’s what they are constantly dependant on to survive nutritionally,’ Dr Madden told the Guardian.
‘So we had to find a way to remove the allergen without removing it from their diet, which is what we would eventually do.’
The three-year-old has responded well to the treatment.
She has been vaccine-free for six months and is able to eat ants without side-effects.
She will be closely monitored by vets for the rest of her life.
Matilda lives in an enclosure with a 34-year-old echidna called Snoopy and a koala called Emily.
‘She comes up to us and nuzzles our boots and wants to be picked up … we are not allowed favourites here but she is one of our favourites’, Dr Madden said.