Nashville Zoo has been involved in giant anteater conservation for more than 12 years and currently houses the largest collection of anteaters in the country. Only about 5,000 giant anteaters remain in the wild due to habit loss and hunting. As one of the premier breeding institutions for this threatened species, Nashville Zoo is working to increase that number and ensure their survival.
Thirteen giant anteaters have been born at Nashville Zoo since 2001. This reproductive success has been enhanced by research projects done at the zoo which focus on the biology of anteaters and their reproductive system. Projects include monitoring reproductive status in female giant anteaters by fecal and urinary hormone analysis and employing ultrasonographic exams to confirm pregnancy and monitor fetal development. Because giant anteaters do not exhibit any obvious physical or behavioral indicators of pregnancy, these alternative methods of confirmation are critical for the care and management of gestating females and neonates in zoos.
Anteaters are highly specialized feeders and their diet can be challenging to replicate in zoos. Nutritional research is essential in developing diets that meet their nutritional needs and stimulate natural feeding behaviors. Nashville Zoo has undertaken research projects to determine if diets currently being fed to captive anteaters contain sufficient concentrations of taurine, a nutritionally essential sulfur-containing amino acids, and if chitin supplementation in the diets would improve gastrointestinal function. Both of these studies are pending publication.
Nashville Zoo is recognized as a leader in caring for captive giant anteaters as well as tamanduas (lesser anteater). The Zoo’s animal care and veterinary staff are currently working on an anteater care manual in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Program that will ultimately provide husbandry guidelines as well as veterinary issues associated with both the giant anteater and the tamandua.