How to spot a tamandua – from the rainforest to your phone 

by ZSL on

By Andrew Heaver, ZSL Fellow and Volunteer

During lockdowns and restrictions on indoor exhibits, one of the species I’ve missed visiting most are ZSL London Zoo’s tamanduas. Watching these delightful animals pottering about their daily business is a real treat, and now that the Zoo’s indoor exhibits have reopened they’re one of the first I’ll be saying hello to again.

Also known as ‘tree anteaters’, the Zoo’s enterprising family of tamanduas clamber pretty much wherever they like in the Zoo’s Rainforest Life enclosure. So if you can’t spot the tamanduas among the enclosure’s leafy foliage, look up; you might spot a black-and-white body scooting along the pipes that keep Rainforest Life as warm and humid as a rainforest. 

A tamandua in Rainforest Live
Spot London Zoo’s tamandua in Rainforest Live

Tamanduas live in the rainforest of Central and South America and seek their prey along branches and fallen logs. Strong claws help them break into insect-riddled timbers and their long pink tongues allow them to lick up numerous ants in a single gulp. They might look like harmless wombles to us, but – from an insect’s perspective – they’re lethally effective eating machines. 

They are also members of complex rainforest communities, whose neighbours range from jaguars and ocelots through to the astonishing basilisk lizard (capable of walking on water!). And thanks to ZSL’s Instant Wild, you can experience these jungles and their incredible inhabitants without ever having to leave your armchair. 

The smartphone crowd-sourcing app Instant Wild allows users to view camera trap images from across the world and help conservationists by identifying animals captured in the photos. App users have access to online ID guides, so no prior wildlife survey experience is necessary – although regular visitors to ZSL’s Zoos will enjoy seeing some familiar species – and by bringing together enough users on the app to identify the animals, scientists can be sure of accurate species identifications. So you don’t need to be an expert to take part!

A tamandua captured on film in Costa Rica earlier this year. Credit: Finca Ocho Verde/ZSL
A tamandua captured on film in Costa Rica earlier this year. Credit: Finca Ocho Verde/ZSL

In one of the projects featured on Instant Wild – the Osa Camera Trap Network, based in Costa Rica – you’ll be able to spot tamanduas, as well as other residents like the coati (an inquisitive racoon-like animal) and, if you’re lucky, several species of big cat.  A system of motion-triggered cameras, installed across the wildlife-rich forests of Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula, record the movements of any creature larger than a small lizard, allowing conservationists to monitor shy and elusive creatures.

Such assessments matter in a landscape that has worldwide significance for nature conservation: better knowledge means better decisions. The camera traps work spectacularly well, generating thousands of images – but this creates its own challenges, as identifying the creatures within them can be highly time-consuming. Which is where users of ZSL’s Instant Wild app can help – by identifying the animals in the images for the conservationists! 

This means that conservationists receive crucial data far sooner than they otherwise could, and can install even more cameras, confident that the additional images will be processed, generating even more precious knowledge. So far, Instant Wild users have identified over 11,000 images from Osa, not to mention 12,000 from Borneo’s rainforests, 10,000 from Kenya’s Lolldaiga Hills, and thousands more from other locations. Ultimately, our people-powered efforts will translate into much better conservation results. 

Camera trap shot from Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

In Costa Rica, the extra data allows the Osa network’s partners – an alliance of universities, conservationists, land-owners and local people – to identify which species and places might need extra help, and to spot emerging challenges. Elsewhere, Instant Wild data is helping scientists at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology to document the impacts of logging and the palm oil industry on Borneo’s wildlife, generating credible evidence to take to decision-makers. In Kenya, app users’ efforts are helping the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to evaluate the success of their efforts to re-connect the habitats of elephants and other threatened species. Closer to home, Instant Wild users are helping ZSL to monitor seal populations in the Thames Estuary.

In short, Instant Wild is an excellent way for all of us to make a useful contribution to conservation in some of the world’s most precious landscapes – and it’s a good way to kill time when you’ve got some to spare! 

Next time you’re at London Zoo, make sure you look for the tamanduas. They’re worth the attention. But until then, why not make yourself a cuppa, download the app for free, or visit ZSL's website here, and go looking for some tamanduas (or lions, or elephants, or seals) on Instant Wild? You’ll help some brilliant conservation projects, and get a privileged glimpse into the daily lives of some remarkable animals.

Instant Wild App
The Instant Wild app is free to download on Apple and Android

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