Keeper's Diary - October 2009
Throughout the last couple of months I have had the privilege of working closely with ZSL London Zoo's two giant anteaters, Sauna and Bonito.
ZSL London Zoo houses two giant anteaters; a male named Bonito and a female called Sauna. Giant anteaters are a large insectivorous species of mammal which have evolved in South and Central America. As their common name suggests, they specialise at feeding on ants and termites.
In their natural environment anteaters use their excellent sense of smell to locate ant hills or termite mounds. They will then use their powerful forearms and claws to rip an opening in the mound before extracting insects with their long sticky tongue.
At the Zoo we are unable to provide Bonito and Sauna with the volume of insects that they would need to eat to sustain themselves, as they can potentially consume up to 30,000 a day. This means we have to provide them with an alternative diet.
The current diet we use is unlike anything the anteaters would think of eating in the wild as it is a mixture which includes ingredients such as dog biscuits, porridge oats, mince meat, honey, banana and eggs. It sounds unusual but the key is to provide the anteaters with all the nutrients that they need.
The ingredients are all soaked in water and mixed in a blender to create a thick soup for the anteaters to eat. It is important to make the food into a soup as giant anteaters possess no teeth and have no ability to chew so they need to be able to get to all the food with their long tongues.
As making food for animals at the Zoo is a very time consuming part of our work, with the anteaters being no exception.
We have just started trialling Sauna and Bonito on a specially formulated powdered insectivore diet that has recently been produced which is a lot quicker to prepare and will provide a more accurate nutrient balance for the animals.
Although Bonito and Sauna are happy eating their meals of soup we will often give them insects as part of their daily enrichment, as well as a lot of old rotten logs and other items which they are happy to spend time ripping apart with their powerful claws.
That is when they aren’t sleeping –which anteaters can do for up to 18 hours a day!
More next month.