Alf the Tamandua: Pilpintuwasi’s Termite Control

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Welcoming Pilpintuwasi’s newest arrival: Alf, a juvenile tamandúa (Tamandua tetradactyla), who was brought to the rescue centre a couple of weeks ago after being confiscated from illegal animal trade.

Tamanduas are a type of anteater and are also known as Lesser Anteater because of their relatively small size in comparison to the Giant Anteater. These are primarily nocturnal animals and they feed on termites, ants and honey. Here in Pilpintuwasi Alf is given a ‘meat milkshake’, a high protein mixture which he loves to drink. In addition to this he feasts on termite nests which are delivered by our local workers to his enclosure.

alf_1[1]When Alf hears the volunteers or workers entering his enclosure to give him his morning ‘meat-shake’ he hurries along the branches to find his breakfast. Whilst trying to get onto his feeding platform he often uses the workers as a ladder and climbs down our heads and arms then landing rather clumsily on the platform to feed.

They have poor eyesight and so therefore rely on their sense of smell and hearing to find their food. When they encounter insects they use their sharp claws to dig out their prey from the nest. Their long tongue is used to lap up termites and can reach up to 15.7 inches in length. Since they are toothless, digestion is aided by a muscular gizzard in their stomach.

IMG_20151209_104325639[2]These animals are found both in the trees and on the ground. Their claws are perfect for holding onto branches and they are helped by a prehensile tail which they use as a fifth limb. Whilst on the ground they walk on the sides of their feet so as not to damage their palms with their sharp claws.

Their claws are not only used to find their food but also to defend themselves against predators. Another defense mechanism which the tamandua employs is an excretion of a strong smelling odor from their anal glands which deters potential predators such as jaguars and ocelots.

Tamanduas are widespread across South America and are adaptable to a range of habitats from gallery forests to rainforests and mangroves. Because they are commonly found in South America they are considered to be categorized as Least Concern in the IUCN red list. However, like Alf was, they are targeted by hunters for sale as a pet species in illegal trade and are also threatened by habitat loss.

pepe_alf[1]They have one offspring and the baby will stay with the mother for the first year of its life. The baby is carried on the mother’s back for the first few months and after a year it will leave to live independently. They are generally solitary animals however Alf shares his home in Pilpintuwasi with Pepe, a juvenile squirrel monkey who was left in a veterinary clinic and who is too small to be introduced to our group of adult squirrel monkeys. These make the most unlikely friendship and Pepe is often found curled up asleep on Alf whose thick wiry hair must make the warmest and comfiest bed.

Rebecca Simmonds

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