June 10, 2011

rock the vote!

The Daily Squee has a new poll asking us to choose (as if there were any question): Baby anteater or baby sloth - Which is cuter? You know what to do, my ant-eating friends...

June 7, 2011

keeping cool

Rub a dub dub...this giant anteater certainly seems to be enjoying his shower! A little more on the left, please! •>~

April 16, 2011

best costume ever

It's a little early for Halloween, but I just came across this impressive giant anteater costume and had to share. What can I say? It's incredible...it even has the claws! The outfit was made by an animal costume designer who goes by the name of Beastcub. You can see other examples of her work, and even order your own, on the Beastcub Creations website. •>~

April 2, 2011

a visit to d.c.

Earlier this year I was invited to spend some time with the giant anteaters at our National Zoo in Washington D.C. I'd been to the zoo many times before; in fact, my earliest encounter with a giant anteater took place there when I was seven years old! So I didn't need convincing when I was offered a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo's anteater barn.

I met Marie Magnuson and Leigh Pitsko, staff animal keepers, outside the great cats exhibit area, where they were attending to an errant sock that had somehow made its way over a sizable moat and into the resident tiger's front yard. Before we went to catch up with the zoo's anteaters, I got a chance to say hello to seven young lions, who were hanging out deep inside the bowels of the great cats holding area. Let me tell you right now: lion cubs, though they might weigh as much as a large dog just a few months after birth, are all pussycat when it comes to behavior! But I digress...

After briefly visiting the keepers' office opposite the cubs, we wandered over to the anteater barn, where the zoo's three giant anteaters overnight and overwinter. I was especially excited to be meeting the zoo's newest anteater, a young male pup born a couple of months prior. As you can read in a previous post, this guy had quite a scare in his first week of life, but he'd recovered just fine and had grown to be only a little larger than your average house cat.

I was introduced first to Dante, the pup's father, who was curled up in his straw-lined crate. I'd known that giant anteaters' long fluffy tails are used as a blanket in the wild (Marie added that they work as umbrellas, too), but I'd never seen an anteater actually sleeping before. If Marie hadn't woken him up, I would have sworn he was a miniature Cousin It—all hair and no discernible features. But he finally poked his snout out to see what all the commotion was. Dante was born in the wild, so he's a more cautious anteater, and zookeepers need to be extra careful around him lest he lash out unexpectedly with his formidable front claws. Giant anteaters are mostly gentle giants, but they've got some serious protective weapons, so humans have to respect that and exercise great care around them, especially if they haven't been reared around people.

Next we turned to Maripi, the female, and her as-yet-unnamed pup! Marie lovingly swept the little guy into her arms and brought him out into the hall for a meet-and-greet. This is Maripi's third pup, and I was told that aside from his initial scare, he's been a very easy-going baby. He's apparently comfortable being away from his mom more than other pups, who might yelp if they fall off their mother's back. He seemed quite at home being held by a human, and he certainly didn't shy away from the attention! Marie made a point of showing me his growing claws, which were already approaching two inches long. Next, she prepared a peanut butter treat for Maripi inside something that resembled a hollowed out rubber dog toy. While Maripi noshed, her pup climbed onto her fur and put on a little show for his visitors. As you can see in the short video up top, he actually sat side-saddle on Maripi's back for a few minutes, which is apparently quite rare for anteater babies!

Soon after the snack, it was time to take leave of my long-snouted friends. I asked Marie when the pup would finally be named, and she mentioned that the zoo was planning a naming contest in which the public could participate. Online voting between five contending names—Pablo, Termito, Demetrio, Fausto, and Valerio—ended this past week, but the decision still awaits a certain anteater's input! The zoo has decided that mom Maripi will have the final say in the name of her baby. She'll choose next week, on April 7th, between the three top vote-getters based on "enrichment objects" placed in the anteater yard!

I want to thank the National Zoo for allowing me a "backstage tour," and in particular Marie Magnuson for showing me around. Whether you live in the DC area or are just passing through, the National Zoo is definitely worth a visit, especially in the warmer spring and summer months, when the anteaters are more likely to be on display. And I highly recommend heading down there while the current pup is young and adorable! •>~

Update: Maripi has made her call: Pablo it is!

March 15, 2011

send a friend an anteater

As you can imagine, I maintain a healthy collection of giant anteater cards and other paraphernalia. So when I recently stumbled upon this delightful creation on Etsy, I got in touch with the lovely ladies at Pawling Print Studio so that I could special-order half a dozen. Turns out Trisha and Janet work out of Washington DC and—completely randomly and awesomely—my hometown of Pound Ridge, NY! I love the fact that they work with environmentally friendly materials, and their non-anteater collection of geometric prints and totes is pretty sweet, too. If you prefer to stick to anteater wares, though, you can purchase this design on individual cards, as a set of six, or even on an adorable onesie for the little tot in your life. •>~

February 14, 2011

January 16, 2011

meet the anteater keeper

Giant anteaters have been on exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. since 1907. Today, the zoo is home to two adults and a brand new baby boy, born on December 7th. Watching over these creatures great and small is Marie Magnuson, one of the zoo’s animal keepers. Magnuson was gracious enough to answer some questions I had about her job, the anteaters she cares for, and a major scare involving the zoo’s newest pup.

OA: How did you first become interested in giant anteaters?

MM: Seeing an anteater in the wild has always been on my “bucket list.” They are just such beautiful animals and so unlike anything else. I've been employed at the National Zoo since 1999, but volunteered for about seven years before that. When I learned that we would be getting giant anteaters here, and that I would be part of the team caring for them, I was over the moon.

OA: The National Zoo currently houses two adult giant anteaters, Dante and Maripi. What are they like? Do they have any “personality” traits?

MM: You need to work with them a while to really get to know them, but they definitely each have their own personality. Their facial expressions never change, so you have to pay attention to body language when working with them. Maripi is very relaxed and easygoing. The only time I have seen her upset is when she hears an alarm cry from her pup. Dante is a little more easily upset. Unlike Maripi, who was born at the Nashville Zoo, Dante was born in the wild and taken as a youngster to be part of a breeding program here in the U.S. So I think that may be the reason.

OA: You’ve written previously that anteaters don’t do all that much thinking. Indeed, they have pretty small brains for their body size. Is there anything you can teach them? Do they get used to routines at all?

MM: It depends on what you mean by “teach”. Dante can target. This means that we can hold a pole, tap the ground with the end, say “Target!” and Dante will go to the end of the pole and put his nose against it. This is very handy when weighing him. Sometimes Maripi remembers how to target and sometimes, well…

A lot of the training we do with the anteaters is to desensitize them to being in close proximity to humans and to tolerate being touched. We’re hoping that they will allow “voluntary“ medical procedures. Maripi is great with this, and we have been able to ultrasound her through all three pregnancies. This tolerance to handling made a big difference when the last baby was born. We were able to place the baby right where it needed to be to nurse because of the level of trust we had built up with her.

Dante, as I mentioned, is a little more nervous about all this touchy-feely stuff. We’re working toward a voluntary echocardiogram with him, but for our safety we have trained him to sit up and hold onto a heavy board that remains between us. He’s also received “man training” to make him more tolerant of men, whom he associates with the sound of power tools. All the keepers in our unit are women, so the only time he would hear men’s voices was when craftsmen would come to fix something, and all the banging and the drills frightened him. He blamed the men. Anyway, soothing words and plenty of treats has helped a lot.

OA: How many giant anteaters have been born at the National Zoo?

MM: Dante and Maripi are the only anteaters to have successfully bred here in Washington. The male pup born in December is their third baby together. The first was a female named Aurora, who is now at ZooParc du Beauval in France. Next came a male named Cyrano, who is now at the Nashville Zoo. The new baby [pictured below] will be with Maripi for at least 10-12 more months.

OA: You had a scare with the most recent pup. Can you describe what happened and how he’s doing now?

MM: Scare is right! There is a detailed description on the zoo’s website, but briefly: After what appeared to be a normal birth, one night we found the baby outside the sleeping crate in the morning. He was cold and unresponsive. Immediate steps were taken to start to warm him up and to transport both him and his mother to the Vet hospital. He was reintroduced to his mom, and she has been taking care of him ever since, with very little assistance from us. It turned out that the camera that was supposed to be recording activity overnight was on the fritz, so we’ll never know for sure what caused this to happen. But both Maripi and the baby are back at the anteater barn and doing very well. His weight is on a level with the other babies we have had here and he seems normal in every respect. He is the quietest anteater baby we’ve had and almost never alarm calls.

OA: When do you think the pup will be able to go outside and meet the public?

MM: As soon as we get some warm weather. I was hoping that after an unusually cold December we might be treated to a mild January, but so far no luck.

OA: What is the best part about your job as an anteater keeper?

MM: I’d have to say the level of trust that I mentioned earlier. Our unit also cares for tigers, bears, and lions, as well as several other smaller species. They are all wonderful, but being able to work so closely with the anteaters is really special.

OA: Do you have any tips for someone who might be interested in a career working with captive animals—anteater or otherwise?

MM: Get as much hands-on experience as possible. Most of the job is just that—a job. There is hosing and cleaning and food prep, and you work holidays and weekends, sometimes in terrible weather conditions, and that is 95 percent of the job. If the other 5 percent, the part that takes your breath away, makes you forget the not-so-glamorous part, then I say “Go for it!” But you might want to find out first by volunteering.

OA: Last question: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you relating to giant anteaters?

MM: Well, one day when giving Maripi a bath—she loves baths and you can see her on the National Zoo’s YouTube page—she farted and blew bubbles in her bath water. That’s the kind of sophisticated humor we go in for around here. •>~

January 9, 2011

two new zoo pups

It's always nice to hear about new giant anteaters entering the world. In the past month, officials have announced not one but two new pups in major U.S. zoos! The first newbie (top), who made his debut on December 7th, is a resident of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Check back here for more on him very soon! The second (bottom), whose gender has not yet been made public, was born 15 days later, on December 22nd, at the San Francisco Zoo in California. One thing's for sure: They may be 3,000 miles apart, but these little guys certainly share a common cute factor! •>~

Update: Hey, cool! Just got word of a third anteater pup to have been born in the last few weeks. This birth took place on December 23rd, at the Parken Zoo in Sweden! Fun fact: He's the first giant anteater to have ever been born in that country. Oh, but contrary to what they say in the video below, I don't think he'll be eating ants in captivity. Anyway, welcome to the world, little guy!

January 8, 2011

a new year!

Happy 2011 to all you giant anteater lovers out there. I've got some fun stuff in store for the coming months, so watch this space! For now, enjoy this mosaic anteater that I found as part of an e-card campaign by the World Land Trust. You, too, can send this little fella to all your friends! •>~