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Small Conservation Grants Impact Giant Armadillos In Brazil

Posted by Carrie Allen on 10/18/2012

Small Conservation Grants Impact Giant Armadillos In Brazil

     Annually, the Zoo’s Conservation Action Now (CAN) small grant program awards individuals or organizations with small grants to help fund meaningful conservation efforts around the globe. The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, headed by conservationist Arnaud Desbiez, was a 2012 recipient.

     “We use the CAN grants to link our Zoo with what’s happening in the wild,” said Jennifer D’Agostino, Zoo veterinarian. “We respected this project because the Zoo exhibited this species in the 1970s, and it’s a vulnerable and perhaps endangered species.”

     The project is the first long-term ecological study of giant armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal wetland.  The giant armadillo can weigh 130 pounds, but is rarely seen due to low population. The project investigates the species to understand its function in the ecosystem using radio transmitters, camera traps, burrow surveys, and resource monitoring and mapping. Below is a condensed account of Desbiez’s August 2012 report.


Persevering Pays Off

July and August were the most fruitful months since the Giant Armadillo Project began a year ago! We captured a large sub-adult male, Odo James, and two adult females, Adele and Liana. The anesthesia and recovery went well. We carefully monitored vital signs such as cardiac and respiratory rates, temperature and blood oxygen levels. We performed heath assessments and collected biological and small tissue samples for analyses.

Using the Right Stuff

We continue using iron Jequi traps with open ends and triggered doors for captures specifically designed for giant armadillos. The habitat is the densest scrub forest in the area, making it very difficult to find, reach and monitor burrows. However, we are using a new model of specially designed external transmitters that range over two kilometers. We expect them to stay attached to the armadillo armor longer than our initial ones and increase monitoring value.

Observing Natural Power

The nature of our project promotes exciting discoveries. One night we observed a giant armadillo digging 5 feeding holes over 80 centimeters deep in under 15 minutes. We also observed one blasting a termite mound and returning the next night to rip out the chimneys, which are cement strong. We would need a shovel and a sledge hammer to do this!

Romancing Priodontes Maximus

Another exciting behavior was our first giant armadillo romance!  We now have evidence of this species sharing a burrow. Isabelle, an adult female, entered a burrow she dug a few days before. Within 30 minutes an adult male, Zezinho, arrived at the burrow, dug around the entrance and went inside. Both returned for two nights. Our cameras captured this initial behavior but not the actual mating inside the burrow. No information exists on giant armadillo reproduction, gestation period or number of young, but we estimate that gestation could be about four months. Perhaps my October update will announce the birth of giant armadillos!

Expanding the Scope

We have begun to examine the role of burrows in disease transmission. This epidemiological factor is becoming key to our work. And we have extended the epidemiological study to other armadillo species. We captured and sampled three six-banded armadillos but have not captured the nocturnal nine-banded armadillo. Recently, we captured a southern naked-tailed female armadillo, Alicia, which we had never seen before. Our cameras caught two of them using giant armadillo burrows.

Paying It Forward

A new initiative will help us reach children throughout the country in creative ways. A textbook company is highlighting the project in one of their workbooks for sixth-grade children. We also gave a presentation at the São Paulo, Brazil, zoo. We were even briefly mentioned in the June 2012 issue of National Geographic.

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