Giant anteater gives birth to twins at London Zoo
Wednesday 27 September 2000
ANT-ENATAL CLASSES NO LONGER NEEDED -
LONDON ZOO'S GIANT ANTEATER GIVES BIRTH TO TWINS
After a long and tense wait, Sauna, London Zoo’s female giant anteater, has given birth to twins. On the morning of 26 August, after a pregnancy of 173 days, Sauna went into labour giving birth to the first youngster at 8.43am, followed half-an-hour later by the second.
The twins, each weighing about 1kg at birth, immediately climbed on the back and tail of Sauna, where they have remained, buried in her long shaggy coat, venturing down only to suckle. Each baby has a short coarse coat which is almost identical in coloration to an adult, with the identifiable white stripe running from shoulder to hind quarters. Their very strong front limbs have small effective claws which enable them to cling onto the mother’s thick coat. Their unique long noses are only a few centimetres long at this stage - and rather wrinkly!
These incredible animals are notoriously difficult to breed and there are less than 150 individuals in the international conservation breeding programme. This is only the second set of twins to have successfully survived in captivity (the first ever in the UK) which makes the birth of these youngsters extra special and an important addition to the international breeding programme for this threatened species.
"Despite being an excellent first-time mother, we were concerned that Sauna would not produce enough milk for the extra demands of the large twins," commented Amanda Ferguson, Senior Keeper at the Web of Life. "To ensure that the babies are receiving enough nourishment, we have been supplementary feeding them with milk when Sauna gets her morning and afternoon feed."
To back up behavioural indications that Sauna was pregnant, London Zoo called upon the skills and technical knowledge of the London Fire Brigade and St Bartholomew's hospital and their thermal image cameras. This sensitive equipment identified a 'hot spot' around Sauna's uterus area (a 1.5 degree centigrade difference to the male, Bonito), which indicated that she was pregnant.
"With so little known about giant anteaters, this has proved to be an ideal opportunity to gather data about the pregnancy, birth and care of the babies," commented Andrew Routh, Veterinary Officer at the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL). "It was great to be able to test new methods of pregnancy diagnosis with the help of the London Fire Brigade and St Bartholemew's Hospital and their thermal image cameras. We also captured the birth on CCTV and all this information will help with the future breeding success of this vulnerable species".
The new parents, Sauna and Bonito arrived at London Zoo in 1998 and 1999 and have been housed at the Web of Life, London Zoo's Biodiversity Exhibition, in a specially designed anteater enclosure which even has its own indoor pool.
"This is a major achievement for London Zoo and ZSL and we are really excited about the arrival of these amazing youngsters. It has been a culmination of a lot of planning and hard team work over the last few years," commented Curator of ZSL's Animal Collections, Nick Lindsay.
As part of an international breeding programme, co-ordinated by Dortmund Zoo in Germany, both adults are important to the small captive population as they represent important genetic stock. Neither of the adults have bred before and therefore the twins represent an important blood line.
Notes to Editors
Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of these animals at this time, access to the press has been limited. Photographs available from PA and broadcast quality footage available from the ZSL PR Office or pooled footage from News Room South East.
Giant anteater facts:
*Sauna (female) was bred at Santa Barbara Zoo, USA and is three years old. She arrived at London Zoo in May 1999.
*Bonito (male) was bred at Dortmund Zoo, Germany and is also three years old. He arrived at London Zoo in December 1998.
*The twins will stay with their mother for about a year riding on her back for most of this time.
*Giant anteaters are found in Central and South America ranging from Southern Belize to Northern Argentina. They live in a variety of different habitats such as savannah, grasslands, swampy areas and humid forests.
*Giant anteaters are classed as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN and are on Appendix II of CITES. The species has disappeared from much of its range as a consequence of habitat loss and human disturbance, including hunting.
*An adult giant anteater is over a metre long (excluding a large, bushy tail which can be as long again) stands at about 0.6 metres and weighs between 20-60 kg.
- As their name implies, giant anteaters are adapted to feeding on invertebrates such as ants and termites. They seek out their prey with one of the longest tongues (up to 61 cms) in the animal kingdom, which is covered in sticky mucus and they tear open termite mounds, earth and rotten logs with their powerful forelegs, which are tipped with formidable claws. They have no teeth and their very muscular stomach helps to grind their food.
- In captivity they are fed a substitute diet which consists of a gruel made up of porridge oats, dog biscuits, fruit, lean mince beef, honey and shrimp which is purified in a Robotcoupe blender. They also get live food in the form of waxworm larvae, mealworms and crickets. They favourite treats are avocado, mango, orange and yoghurt.
- Giant anteaters have relatively poor hearing and vision, but they have a incredible sense of smell (40 times more sensitive than a human's). London Zoo keeping staff fill old, smelly wellington boots and logs with live food to encourage the anteaters to search for their food.
- Bonito and Sauna have access to two large grassy paddocks which they share with four rheas (a South American flightless bird). Both the paddocks and inside enclosures have pools as anteaters love to bathe.
- Giant anteaters have a lower body temperature than most mammals (32-34 degrees centigrade) and are ‘heterothermic’, which means their body temperature, although higher than that of the environment, fluctuates with air temperature.
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