(Original post on November 14, 2016)
In November, a Nashville zookeeper packed her bags and flew to South America to research giant armadillos and giant anteaters in a remote place called the Pantanal.
Nashville Zoo carnivore keeper, Pujita Venkat, was selected as one of the researchers to travel alongside Dr. Arnaud Desbiez, an internationally renowned field researcher from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, to conduct field work on giant armadillos and giant anteaters as part of the Giant Armadillo Project.
The team is collecting baseline data on giant anteaters in the Pantanal, a tropical wetland in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Their two week journey entails collecting semen samples and fitting giant anteaters with GPS tags to learn more about how they use their environment. While semen quality is a good indicator of health, the samples will also be used in a comparative study with giant armadillos to provide information on their behavior.
Little was known about the elusive giant armadillo until Dr. Desbiez began his pioneering research into the species in 2011 with the creation of the Giant Armadillo Project. For the past decade, Dr. Desbiez has led groundbreaking research associated with giant armadillo and giant anteater conservation.
Nashville Zoo is home to the largest collection of giant anteaters in North America, which Pujita has worked with over the last three years. “I’ve worked with these animals extensively and have learned everything I can about them in captivity,” says Venkat. “Participating in the Armadillo Project offered the opportunity to learn more about conservation fieldwork of anteaters as well as expand my knowledge of giant armadillos.”
Since 2011, Nashville Zoo has been a major supporter of Dr. Desbiez’s field research. The Zoo provided Desbiez with the initial seed money to establish the first long-term ecological study of giant armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal wetland as well as other future Brazilian Biomes. The Zoo also helped purchase equipment used by researchers to track giant anteaters in the wild.
Nashville Zoo also hosted a presentation for the community to come and learn about the giants of South America on Feb. 28, 2015 where Dr. Arnaud Desbiez presented his decade long research on giant armadillos and giant anteaters.