Giant anteater born at London Zoo
Thursday 14 February 2002
After an anxious wait for Keepers at London Zoo, the Zoo's female giant anteater, Sauna, has given birth to a baby girl. These incredible animals are notoriously difficult to breed and there are less than 150 individuals in the international Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for breeding this threatened animal
On 19 January, keepers anxiously watched Sauna on CCTV as she went into labour. At 6pm she gave birth and the new-born anteater almost immediately climbed onto Sauna's back. At only four weeks old, and weighing only 2kg, the young anteater has been suckling from her mother regularly, but is spending most of her time clinging on top of her mum's back and nuzzling her snout into her mother's thick hair.
"Sauna is being an excellent mother" commented Amanda Ferguson, Senior Keeper at the Web of Life. "We regularly weigh the baby and the vets carry out health checks to see if there are any concerns, but Sauna has had no problems producing milk, and the baby is certainly a very healthy weight at the moment."
The baby is almost identical in coloration to an adult with short course hair that has an identifiable white stripe running from head to tail, and longer hair on her tail which will become very bushy! Her unique long nose is only a few centimetres long at this stage and her strong front limbs have small effective claws that enable her to cling onto the mother's back.
The 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 with a pond, log pile, sand pits, trees, digging holes and even its own indoor pool. In 2000, Sauna gave birth to the UK's first ever anteater twins, Sol and Lua, who are now moving to European zoos to pair up with other giant anteaters in the conservation programme.
Ever since Sauna began her first pregnancy with the twins in 2000, London Zoo has used the skills and technical knowledge of staff from St Bartholemew's hospital and their thermal image cameras. In 2000, 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. Staff from St Batholemew's also offered their skills during the pregnancy of London Zoo's latest baby anteater.
"This is proving to be another great opportunity to gather data about the pregnancy, birth and care of anteaters" Continues Amanda Ferguson. "There is very little known about giant anteaters, so it has been extremely useful to continue our collaboration with 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."
Nick Lindsay, Curator of ZSL's Animal Collections, commented "This is another important achievement for London Zoo and ZSL, and we are very excited about this latest birth. There has been so much planning and team-work put into breeding the giant anteaters over the last few years. As part of an international conservation programme, co-ordinated by Dortmund Zoo in Germany, the parents are key to the small captive anteater population as they represent important genetic stock. This is the second time these two adults have bred, so it is fantastic that we have another baby anteater so soon after our success of breeding the UK's first ever anteater twins."
Notes to Editors
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Giant anteater facts
- Sauna (female) was bred at Santa Barbara Zoo, USA and is four and a half years old. She arrived at London Zoo in May 1999. Bonito (male) was bred at Dortmund Zoo, Germany and is also four and a half years old. He arrived at London Zoo in December 1998. Anteaters live for approximately 30 years
- Sauna gave birth to the UK's first ever anteater twins on 26 August 2000. The twins, Sol and Lua, are now grown up and are moving to other European Zoos as part of the conservation programme for breeding this threatened species
- Web of Life, the biodiversity exhibition housed in the Millennium Conservation Centre at London Zoo, was recently presented with the prestigious annual Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) Award for the high standard of accommodation for invertebrates and lower vertebrates. The exhibit was judged to have best promoted natural behaviour, high standards of animal welfare, and public understanding of animal needs
- The new baby will stay with her 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
- Diet - 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, 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 humans). London Zoo keeping staff fill old, smelly wellington boots and logs with live food to encourage the anteaters to search for their food.
- The giant anteaters 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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