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Giant Anteater!!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Giant anteater habitat near Karanambu, Guyana.

I got an itinerary for my press trip to Guyana several weeks before we were to depart. There were several items on it that made my eyes go boiiiinnnnggg, not least of which was "Karanambu: Early morning excursion on the savannah to look for giant anteater."

I had no idea. Once again, my preconceptions about Guyana were to be shattered. First, I hadn't realized that the country boasts extensive savannah among its habitats. Second, I didn't know that giant anteaters ranged as far north as South America's northern coast. Not only that, they were historically found from southern Mexico all the way south to northern Argentina. Thanks to human persecution, they are vanishingly rare in Central America, and very rarely seen in the wild even in the stronghold of their range.

Myrmecophaga tridactyla
is a huge animal, growing to seven feet long and 85 pounds--100 pounds for a large male. It's the size of a wolf. It lives in a wide variety of habitats, from rainforest to dry forest and savannah, wherever ants and termites are abundant. It's active during the day in forested habitats. In the savannahs, or wherever it suffers from human persecution, it is primarily nocturnal, using its keen sense of smell to locate termite mounds and ant nests, which it tears apart with powerful clawed forelimbs. A harmless beast unless cornered, the giant anteater will stand on its hinders and defend itself with slashing claws and a crushing "hug." I've been hugged by its edentate cousin, the three-toed sloth, and you don't want that hug, with a very pinchy finish. Its huge foreclaws close against its palms with a vise-like grip, easily smashing bone. When walking or running, giant anteaters fold the claws against the palm, and walk on the heel of the "hand," the claws never touching ground. It would be like running on all fours with your fists balled up.

We left just after daybreak to go find an anteater. Our driver scanned the savannah as he drove, and a second guide stood in the jeep with his body out the window for better visibility. Suddenly the spotter banged on the roof of the jeep and we veered off the road and over the trackless grassland, speeding toward a dark blotch on the horizon. When the vehicle could go no farther, the driver and spotter took off running toward the anteater, flanking it and driving it toward our stunned little band of hopeful anteater watchers.
My breath was taken away by the suddenness of the pursuit and the tactics of our guides. I hadn't dreamt we'd hunt the animal down; I'd thought we would simply hope for a distant glimpse, perhaps a view through a spotting scope. But here they were, driving the animal right toward us, running like mad on either side of it.

Tomorrow: More giant anteater facts, fotos, and musings. Cue organ music.


Beautiful stuff, rm! Thank you so much for the link. Phoebe and Liam LOVED the videos and so did I.

MAMMA MIA!! The roadkills in Guyana must be UNreal...
(anxious for tomorrow's 'musings;' fotos and facts are ok too)

Wow - I can wait to see more! What a bizarre looking fellow - I'm still not entirely sure which end I'm looking at!

And I just found a picture of their natural prey!

Unreal! The shapes on the giant anteater are so bizarre and abstract. Thanks for sharing.

Oh, a clif hanger! I will be back tomorrow for more.

I am such a sucker for these cliff hangers.

Let's see, they are chasing a 7 foot long razor clawed beast toward you... just your average vacation trip.

This blog has truly enriched my life over the past several months and I just had to register and comment on the anteater videos! Not sure which end is more amazing--that tongue or the wild tail!

David--got your book today, thanks--it's lovely. I hope you get to see and sculpt this critter someday.

Deb, it's good to know such things walk the planet, isn't it?

Floridacracker, nothing more than y'all do down in the piney flatwoods with those 'dillos, just on a larger scale. A 'dillo the size of a wolf.

Wow, that's way beyond amazing! I'm speechless! Can't wait to hear "the rest of the story"

Holy cow!!!! What a sight THAT must have been! Guyana was just full of surprises. :c)

I am stuck on and unsettled by the mental image of those guys flushing out the anteater. What contradictory emotions the whole episode must have raised for you. Was this press trip designed to raise awareness of Guyana's ecotourism operations, and if so, how does activity like that square with the supposed benefits of ecotourism?

Well might you ask, LOG. I'll address that dysfunction in tonight's post.

I love it when the scientific name is a tell-all of the being!
What a treat it mus have been to see it--though that dysfunction would twist inside me a bit, too.

How on earth do you stay inside your skin with all the great animals you get to see and experiences you have with them?!!!! I am so blessed by your sharing of them!

Oh gees, I'm excited you got to see this beastie, but did the guides have to scare the crap out of it? Or maybe I'm just over-reacting--maybe it wasn't scared, just reacting to stimuli but not getting upset... ? Will read your update to find out what happened.

Still--it must've been pretty cool to see one of these guys.

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