02 23/02/2018

New giant anteater arrives at Chester Zoo

A rare giant anteater has arrived at Chester Zoo as part of a European endangered species breeding programme.

  • Four-year-old male Oso selected as ideal genetic pairing for zoo’s resident female, Bliss
  • Staff hope the duo will have young in the future
  • The giant anteater is vulnerable to extinction in Central and South America due to habitat loss and road kills
  • Chester Zoo is supporting vital research in Brazil working to help prevent the high numbers of anteaters falling victim to road deaths
Four-year-old male Oso has moved from a zoo in Cumbria having been carefully chosen as a perfect match for Chester’s resident female, Bliss.

Oso will be slowly introduced to his new companion by the zoo’s expert team of keepers after being selected as an ideal genetic pairing.

Staff hope the duo will get along famously and produce young in the future.

Tim Rowlands, Curator of Mammals at Chester Zoo, said:
Oso is a very important giant anteater as males are scarce in the European breeding programme. His genetic makeup is vital to the future conservation breeding of the species and hopefully, in time, he’ll hit it off with female Bliss and they’ll go on to have pups.
Giant anteaters, which are native to Central and South America, are classed a vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are threatened on both continents, where much of the grassland they depend on to survive has been destroyed. In some areas of Brazil where they once roamed freely there are now none left. Now, research supported by the zoo points to another major factor in the demise of giant anteaters – road deaths.

Cat Barton, the zoo’s Field Conservation Manager, explains:

Few long-term studies of giant anteaters have ever been carried out, making effective conservation actions for these unique-looking animals very difficult. However, the zoo is supporting efforts in South America which are working to put that right.

Through a project titled Anteaters and Highways, our partners in Brazil are carrying out vital research to assess the impact of road deaths on giant anteaters over thousands of miles of roads. Such a high number of road kills have been recorded that it’s now presumed one of the main threats to the species after habitat loss.

GPS collars fitted to giant anteaters are providing valuable information on when and how they cross roads so that strategies can be put in place to help prevent the high numbers of anteaters falling victim. Camera traps are also helping to provide estimates of population sizes living close to and far from roads.

In many areas there are negative superstitions about them, all of which are affecting their survival. Surveys are also therefore being carried out to understand motorists’ perceptions and attitude towards the species.
Our work with the giant anteaters at the zoo and our support for conservation projects in the wild are critical to understanding more about this wonderful animal and to protecting future generations.
Despite its size, the giant anteater feeds mostly on tiny insects and can devour up to 30,000 ants or termites in a day. This specific diet of little invertebrates has seen it evolve to become one of only two mammals without any teeth, instead using its sticky tongue which can reach two feet in length and extend and withdraw at up to 150 times per minute to feed.

Giant anteater facts

  • The giant anteater is aptly named as it is the world’s largest species of anteater
  • A giant anteater can devour up to 30,000 ants in a day
  • It is one of only two types of mammals without any teeth even in adulthood
  • An anteater's tongue can reach two feet in length, and is covered in sticky saliva, allowing it to trap ants. It can extend and withdraw it up to 150 times per minute
  • Giant anteaters walk on their wrists
  • Males can weigh up to 50kg and reach 2m in length
  • Chester Zoo’s new arrival Oso was born on 09/05/2013
  • For more on the Anteaters and Highways project, visit the zoo’s Act for Wildlife conservation website: www.actforwildlife.org.uk/conservation-news/anteaters-and-highways/