Last month, the Los Angeles Zoo welcomed a new family member. The first tamandua pup born at the zoo entered the world on August 28, 2003. The birth of the currently unnamed pup is a milestone for the zoo.

The new parents, eight-year-old male Lou and six-year-old female Micah, appear to be adjusting to family life well. Zookeepers are closely monitoring Micah’s health, behavior, and the development of the fetus throughout the pregnancy, even training her to welcome ultrasound tests. Micah is currently bonding well with the new pup, whose gender will be determined in the near future through blood tests. Like other species of anteater, southern tamandua mothers typically carry their young on their backs for their first year of life. After the pup is carried by Micah for a year, they will branch out on their own, as tamanduas are naturally solitary. 

A relative of the anteater, southern tamanduas are often referred to as lesser anteaters. They are medium-sized animals with fur colors ranging from blond to brown to black, often depending on the area of their birth. Southern tamanduas have sharp claws that they use to climb trees and forage for ants, termites, beetles, bees, and honey. They poke holes in ant hills or termite nests and eat the insects as they exit through the holes. 

Southern tamanduas do not have teeth, but their 16-inch long tongues certainly make up for it. An adult tamandua can consume over 9,000 insects a day, using their spiked tongues to catch ants and termites. The spikes sit along the rear edge of the tamandua’s tongue, and a thick coating of saliva helps trap their prey.

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Southern tamanduas like Micah and her pup are not considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but experts are still concerned about the deterioration of their South American and Caribbean habitats. Southern tamanduas typically reside in the forests, shrublands, and savannahs of Colombia, Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Uruguay, Trinidad, and Argentina. Human interference like deforestation, traffic, and road construction are threats to the tamandua’s native habitat. Wildfires are also a significant force threatening their natural ecosystem.

The new pup is the first successful birth of a southern tamandua at the Los Angeles Zoo. The Los Angeles Zoo is part of the Southern Tamandua Species Survival Plan, a program between the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and accredited zoos that encourages tamandua breeding. The organization helps to maintain genetic diversity and sustainability in zoos across North America.

Senior Animal Zookeeper Mallory Peebles told KCAL News that this is “a significant birth for the zoo.” She continued, “This is the first time L.A. Zoo visitors will have the opportunity to see the species as a neonate and observe its development over time.” Peebles emphasized the hard work of the zookeepers in keeping Micah and her pup happy and healthy throughout the pregnancy and after. Visitors can observe the southern tamandua family in the nursery next to the Winnick Family Zoo.