Aug. 8, 2007 A giant anteater was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo the morning of Tuesday, July 24—a first in the Zoo’s 118-year history.
National Zoo animal care staff and veterinarians had been closely monitoring the first-time mother for the past six months, performing regular ultrasounds and other diagnostics. Based on the typical gestation period of giant anteaters, staff expected the mother, Maripi, to give birth in early August. She surprised them early last Tuesday morning when a keeper checking on the animal discovered the tiny baby clinging to its mother’s chest.
National Zoo staff has yet to determine the gender or weight—and may not for some time. Like many first-time animal mothers, the anteater might be prone to stress that would affect her rearing of the baby, so staff will make every effort not to disturb the animals. According to keepers, Maripi is showing excellent maternal instinct in caring for her baby and is very patient as the baby negotiates its various techniques of climbing up onto her back.
Visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of mother and baby in their exhibit next to Lemur Island from 8 to 10 a.m. The baby’s father, Dante—who has been separated from mother and baby—may be seen on exhibit in the yard at all other times. Male anteaters play no part in the rearing of offspring.
Giant anteaters live in grassland savannahs, swamps, humid forests and wetlands, and their habitat spans most of Latin America—from Belize to Argentina. Anteaters use their keen sense of smell to detect termite mounds and anthills and tear them open with strong claws to suck up insects with their long noses.
Anteaters also have sticky tongues that can extend up to two feet long. Their tongues help them collect insects—they can eat up to 30,000 ants a day. Maripi is one of three anteaters in the Zoo collection and has lived at the National Zoo since 2006.
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