A first in the Sacramento Zoo’s 83-year history, the Zoo welcomed a newborn Giant anteater on the morning of March 9, 2010. On the morning of the birth, the Zoo keeper checked in on Amber, the mother, and found the young anteater bleating loudly and the baby was soon clinging to its mother’s back. Mother and baby will be inside the den for a few weeks, away from public view, until the baby is strong enough to travel on Amber’s back and the pair establishes a routine.
A second baby was born a few hours later, but died shortly after birth. The birth of two Giant anteaters is rare and has only been recorded very few times in Zoos, with only one pair surviving to adulthood. The survival rate of newborns is increased in captivity but complications can still occur.
“While it’s never easy to lose an animal, and we're saddened by the loss of one of our newborn anteaters, we are very hopeful that the surviving youngster will thrive and be a exciting addition to our zoo family,” said Harrison Edell, Zoo General Curator.
The surviving newborn was taken to the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital when Animal Care staff determined it required medical attention. The baby was slowly warmed to a normal body temperature and hand-fed in an incubator overnight. As its mother has successfully raised two other infants and was still showing maternal behaviors, the staff felt the infant had its best chance being raised by its mother. Less than 24 hours later, the Animal Care staff and Veterinarians reintroduced the baby to its mother. Close observations through a closed circuit video feed showed the pair to be responding well, and by Thursday morning, the mother and baby were sleeping comfortably in their den and appeared to be in good health.
Baby Giant anteaters are almost identical in coloration to an adult with short course hair growing in with an identifiable white stripe running from head to tail, and longer hair on the tail which becomes very bushy. The unique long nose is only a few centimeters long at this stage and their strong front limbs have small effective claws that enable them to cling onto the mother's back.
The Sacramento Zoo started exhibiting anteaters in 2004. Amber arrived in March 2009. Zoo keepers observed breeding behavior and a full exam and ultrasound in January confirmed the pregnancy.
The mother gives birth after a gestation period of 180 days. In the wild, Giant anteaters are solitary and the male is not involved in caring for the baby. That leaves the mother to do the heavy lifting, literally. Once the newborn lets out the first high-pitched screech, baby anteaters climb on their mother’s back and many will ride there for up to a year. A mature anteater can weigh as much as 140 pounds and stretch as much as seven feet from snout to tail tip.