The anteaters belong to the Xenarthra order and are characterized by the absence of teeth, extra joint surfaces between the vertebras and reproductive tracts and circulatory systems that are unique among mammals. There are four species of anteater, and they exist only in the New World. Brazil has three of the existing species: giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), lesser anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), and the pygmy anteater (Cyclopes didactylus). All of these species are suffering population declines due to human growth, habitat loss, and the impact of fire, hunting, and car collisions. There is an urgent need to improve in-situ and ex-situ conservation of these species.
In Brazil, there has been little data about the captive population. A survey was distributed to the institutions that have captive anteaters. The objective was to improve collaboration between these institutions, produce a management guide, and improve the ex-situ conservation. The survey contained questions about the species present, number of animals, management, type of animal identification, reproduction, nutrition, and geographic origin. The questionnaire was sent via fax or email to 15 institutions, members of the Brazilian Zoo Association, from which 87% answered. From the questionnaire, we were able to determine that the number of captive animals in 2003 were 39 giant anteaters (20 males, 18 females, and one undetermined) in 12 institutions and 23 lesser anteaters (12 males, 10 females, one undetermined) in nine institutions. There are no pygmy anteaters maintained in captivity, although it is a common free-living animal in Brazil’s northern regions. Pygmy anteaters are difficult to maintain in captivity.
The main form of identification is transponders, and almost 40% of the institutions use no identification. The giant anteaters are maintained mainly in pairs; only one institution has succeeded maintaining a group. Some animals are maintained alone due to the lack of a mate. The lesser anteater is maintained equally alone, in pairs or in groups. The numbers of births were 06 giant anteater and 04 lesser anteaters. The mortality in the first year is very high, about 65% of the giant anteaters and 50% of the lesser anteaters. Some of the animals were hand raised, and the diet used was mainly composed of cow’s milk or milk used to hand raise domestic pets, egg yolk and diverse supplements. There is no commercially formulated diet for adult anteaters in Brazil, so the institutions developed a liquid diet that differs from each place, and the main components are dog food, bovine meat, egg, termites, honey, milk, and fruit like banana and papaya. Other components vary greatly between the institutions. The zoos usually receive animals from the wild with health problems or for hand rearing.
In 2004, seven giant anteaters and 13 lesser anteaters were brought into zoos. There was no significant distinction between seasons. At the end of 2004, there were 39 giant anteaters (21 males, 17 females, and one undetermined) and 25 lesser anteaters (15 males, 10 females). The veterinary management was very poor. Little data was collected, such as diagnosis of diseases and cause of deaths.
This questionnaire was only done for 2004 but will be continued annually. Although it was done for only 1 year, we were able to see that the anteater populations didn’t have a significant increase, the infant mortality was high, and there are a lot of wild animals coming into the captive population. Management and veterinary care were also deficient. This study will continue to be done, but it is already clear that there is a need for professional collaboration, research, and conservation actions with the anteaters in Brazil.