We have two adult giant anteaters, a male that was born in 2004 called Lucifer and a female that was born in 2005 called Nala. The pair came to the Zoo in April 2009.
Since their arrival we have welcomed two baby giant anteaters, the first a female which was born in 2010 and the second, a male, born in October 2012. Both of which have moved on as part of the breeding programme.
Our anteaters can be found at the hilltop, near the lions.
Our giant anteaters are part of the European Endangered Species Programme.
Giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are native to Central and South America. In times past, they had a huge range that stretched from Belize to Uruguay. However, populations of the giant anteater have been declining, with populations disappearing in Central America and the southern part of its range.
Giant anteaters live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, and rain forests. They are typically solitary animals, coming together only to reproduce. The female anteater produces a single offspring after a 190-day gestation period. The baby anteater spends most of its time riding on its mother’s back, until it is almost half her size. Baby giant anteaters become independent from their mothers at about 24 months of age.
Giant anteaters have no teeth. As their name suggests, their diet consists mainly of ants, termites and other insects. The anteater uses its long tongue to probe into the openings of ant and termite colonies, using its sticky saliva to trap insects. Instead of chewing, anteaters crush their food using hard growths on the inside of their mouths.
This species is the largest of the anteaters, with a long snout (up to 45 cm or 18 inches), and a body length from nose to tail measuring up to 185 – 210 cm or about 6 – 8 ft! They have thick, stiff hair that is longer toward the tail. Their coat is brown and black with black and white stripes on the shoulders. The forelegs are white, with black bands at the toes.
Giant anteaters have 5 claws on each foot, with the inner 3 claws of the front feet very long and sharp. It uses these claws for defence, rearing up on its hind legs and using its strong tail for balance as it quickly lashes out with these sharp weapons. Anteaters have been known to kill their main predators, which include big cats like jaguars and cougars!
Giant anteaters face many threats, most from humans and human activity. They are hunted for food and are killed as pests. They are also taken for the pet trade. Habitat loss and destruction is another major threat to this species
Expanding out from the award winning research that has revealed so much about the elusive giant armadillo, Dr Arnaud Desbiez and his team have turned their attention to another iconic South American mammal, the giant anteater.
The giant anteater is currently listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List. More than half of their scrub forest and grassland habitat in the Brazilian Cerrado has been lost to agriculture over the last 35 years. The remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented by roads and highways, leading to a high mortality rate through vehicle collisions. Giant anteaters are among the animals most frequently killed on these roads, and road accident fatalities now pose a serious threat to the species’ long-term survival.
To address the threat, the team have launched the Anteaters & Highways initiative to collect anteater road interaction data and help protect the species in the wild. The research aims to quantify the impact of roads on giant anteater populations and evaluate potential knock-on effects on the species’ behavior, population structure, and health. The team are also investigating whether roads in the Cerrado are affecting anteater population persistence through the creation of population sinks and barriers to gene flow.
Research results will provide insight into anteater movement patterns, inform road management strategies in Brazil, and help save an iconic New World species.