Look who’s ‘snout and about’ at Belfast Zoo!

Belfast Zoo is celebrating the arrival of a giant anteater baby! The new arrival was born on 2 November 2017 to parents, Pancho and Kara and can now be spotted ‘snout and about’. (photo: Belfast Zoo)

Belfast Zoo is home to the only giant anteaters in Ireland. Kara arrived from Duisburg Zoo and was joined by Pancho from Halle Zoo in 2012, as part of the collaborative breeding programme.

Zoo curator, Raymond Robinson, explains “The pup spends the first year of life hitching a ride on the mother’s back. The infant is born with a full coat of hair and is almost identical to the adult. This helps to camouflage the baby against the mother’s coat and also makes the mother look larger to predators. However, it is this camouflage that makes it very difficult for keepers to find out whether the newest member of the zoo family is male or female. We want to give the pair time to bond and minimise disruption, so a name will be selected when the baby is old enough. Kara and the baby are beginning to explore their outdoor space so keep your eyes peeled to spot our latest arrival!”

The giant anteater is an endangered South American mammal. As their name suggests, the giant anteater is the largest species of anteater in the world and can grow up to seven foot in length.

Raymond continues “The giant anteater’s name also hints at this species’ favourite food. Incredibly a giant anteater can eat more than 30,000 ants and termites in a day. The anteater is unquestionably an unusual looking species. They have long course hair, a large bushy tail and a very long snout. They use their claws to rip open ant hills and use their long tongue, which measures up to 50 centimetres, to mop up the insects from inside the termite mount. Keepers have replicated this natural behaviour in Kara and Pancho’s home by building some artificial termite mounds that the food can be inserted into. Our giant anteaters also share their home with some South American neighbours including capybara and Darwin’s rhea.”

Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said “This incredible species is found in the grasslands and rainforests of Central and South America. While they were once widespread, today their numbers vary drastically between countries and they are now considered one of the most threatened mammals in Central America. In fact, in Brazil, the population declined by 30% between 2000 and 2010 and in many other areas of the country, where they once roamed, there are now none left. In Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala studies seem to suggest that the giant anteater is extinct. This worrying trend is predominantly due to habitat destruction and the grassland habitat of the anteater is also susceptible to fires. This species is also hunted for food, they are considered to be pests and they also suffer from the effects of the pet trade.”

Alyn continues “This unique species is facing the very real risk of extinction in the foreseeable future and it is imperative that Belfast Zoo and zoos around the world work together to play an active role in ensuring the survival of the species. We do this through global and collaborative breeding programmes. There are only 200 giant anteaters living in zoos around the world and Kara and Pancho are the only breeding pair in Ireland. This birth is therefore not only a celebration for the Belfast Zoo team but for the breeding programme and the species as a whole.”

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