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Giant Anteater Birth Is a First for Prague Zoo

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Prague Zoo is celebrating yet another breeding success. On January 20, a baby Giant Anteater was born. For Prague Zoo it is the first baby anteater born in its breeding history. The proud parents are mom, Ella, and dad, Hannibal, who arrived at the zoo in summer 2014.

A baby Giant Anteater is truly an exceptional sight; it looks like a miniature version of its parents, and spends the first few weeks on its mother's back. When visitors carefully focus on the mom Ella, they will see the small anteater holding firmly on to her.

1 1IMG_9806_exportPhoto Credits: Prague Zoo /Petr Hamerník (Image 1) and Miroslav Bobek (Image 2)

Ella and Hannibal came to Prague Zoo in 2014, after a twelve-year break in the breeding of Giant Anteaters. Ella comes from Warsaw, and Hannibal from Madrid. They both grew accustomed to their new environment quite quickly, but it took roughly three months for them to bond. A certain role in this may also have been played by the fact that, in nature, male anteaters are normally larger than females, but for the Prague pair it was the opposite case. Ella, who is now three years old, was roughly one quarter larger than Hannibal when she arrived, and weighed ten kilograms more, even though they are both the same age.

Ella takes exemplary care of her baby, and, when she feels danger, actively defends it. The baby anteater currently weighs 1,990 grams (4.4 lb), and is doing well. Starting February 5, visitors to Prague Zoo have been able to see him in the ‘Exhibition of Giant Anteaters’.

For now, the mother and baby spend most of their time in the nesting box, which will remain covered for some time. Visitors will have the greatest chance of seeing them when Ella walks to the exhibition next door, where she gets fed around noon.

Giant Anteaters arrived in Prague Zoo in the 1950s, but attempts to breed them always ended in failure. That is why this year's baby is a huge success, and the breeders themselves are, obviously, extremely happy with the birth.

The Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), also known as the Ant Bear, is a large insectivorous mammal native to Central and South America. It is one of four living species of anteaters and is classified with sloths in the order Pilosa.

Giant Anteaters have a very peculiar appearance. Their tubular snout conceals a long, sticky tongue up to 60 cm long. They specialize in collecting social insects, especially termites and ants, of which they can consume up to 30 thousand a day (in the zoo they are fed a special mash). They rake apart hard termite mounds using their strong, long claws.

The Giant Anteater is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. According to the IUCN: “Myrmecophaga tridactyla is at risk from habitat loss in parts of its range, and this is a significant threat to Central American populations in particular. Where this species inhabits grassland habitats it is particularly susceptible to fires. In Brazil, burning of sugar cane plantations prior to their harvest leads to the death of significant numbers of giant anteaters due to severe burn injuries (F. Miranda pers. comm. 2013). Animals are sometimes killed on roads or by dogs. Giant anteaters are hunted for food throughout their distribution, and are additionally hunted as a pest, for pets or for illegal trade in some parts of their range.”

“It has been recorded from many protected areas. It is listed on several national Red Data lists, and is protected as a national heritage species in some provinces in Argentina. There is a need to improve fire management practices, especially in sugarcane plantations and within the regions of grassland habitat occupied by this species. Population and genetic data, as well as habitat use information, are needed, especially for areas that are being subjected to land use change. A reintroduction program is being carried out in Corrientes province, Argentina.”

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