Tamandua (lesser anteater)

Southern Tamandua

Latin Name: Tamandua tetradactyla Order: Pilosa Family: Myrmecophagidae

Southern tamandua are also known as lesser anteaters (based on a comparison to Giant Anteaters) and collared anteaters/tamandua (due to their standard coloration of a dark patch of fur in a collar shape on their back).

There is a second species of tamandua, the northern tamandua (T. mexicana).  This species is less common than the Southern Tamandua in zoos, but still will have some individuals (or hybrids) seen, typically coming in as confiscations.  The known individuals have been eliminated from the Southern Tamandua SSP’s breeding population to reduce hybridization. Northern Tamandua can be very similar in appearance to Southern Tamandua, but may have shorter ears, smaller bodies and a more pronounced/larger ‘vest’. 

Overview 

Tamanduas are a larger, engaging species that are used in a wide variety of presentations across many facilities.  They have numerous adaptations easily demonstrated in both formal and informal encounters and comprehensive conservation messaging.  While they are overall an excellent ambassador, they do require a higher level of skill and training for use and are generally not recommended for use by volunteer or infrequent handlers in facilities. They are very strong with sharp claws and can easily injure handlers if startled or if training is not consistent.   A newer species in the zoo field, they still have evolving husbandry practices and little formal data about their overall medical background. Dietary best-practices in particular continue to be updated. There have been studies about pregnancy and offspring through collaboration between AZA facilities and data-collection is highly encouraged.  They are an excellent candidate for an ambassador that can be easily used while participating in the SSP’s breeding recommendations.  It is highly recommended to pursue this if interested in acquiring a tamandua for your facility as the species has not reached a sustainable threshold yet in the AZA population. 

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat: 

The two tamandua species are generally separated by the Northern Andes.

Tamandua tetradactyla is found in South America to the east of the Andes from Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad Island, and the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname), south to northern Uruguay and northern Argentina.

Tamandua mexicana is found in primarily Central America and ranges from southern Mexico in the north of its range and as far south as northwestern Peru and northwestern Venezuela.

They can live in a variety of habitats including wet and dry forests, tropical rainforest and savanna. They are considered semi to fully arboreal and will spend much of their time within trees. They will readily come down to the ground for foraging or travel.  They are known to nest in tree hollows, but there is also evidence of terrestrial nesting, especially in burrows dug by giant armadillos.  

Longevity

The median life expectancy of this species in human care is currently estimated at 10 years of age.  There are many individuals in zoo populations however that indicate the species may live 15-20+ years. They also continue to breed well past current median life expectancy.  The oldest recorded tamandua in an AZA zoo is currently 19 years old.  In the wild, the average life span is between 6 to 9 years. 

Ecosystem Role 

Tamandua are primarily insectivores who spend the majority of their time foraging and searching for food. As they can eat around 9,000 insects (primarily ants and termites) a day, they help keep large populations down and can reduce negative impacts of parasitism in plants. However, they will not spend too long at a single insect nest (thought to be to avoid bites/stings), allowing populations to continue in the area and not be fully eliminated.  Newer publications also have shown that tamandua’s interactions with insect nests also allow for disturbance foraging (use of an outside disturbance to locate otherwise inaccessible prey) in birds. 

 

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Habitat

  • Tamandua are arboreal and can feel more comfortable in elevated spaces than on the ground. It is recommended to provide ample space for climbing and other activities, including nesting.  
    • Tamandua are recommended to be offered at least one elevated option as a sleeping/nesting area.  Some examples are large baskets or buckets, tubs, barrels, hammocks or even crooks in perching/flat perching areas.
      • Reid Park Zoo has had success with a large rubbermaid tote with a hole cut in the side.  It is bolted into a shelf in their climate controlled area with a log leading up to it.  This makes for easy access to the animal as well as cleaning/swapping towels.
        • Custom, heavy boxes have also been used that do not require bolting to the shelf.  Our boxes are around 30 pounds and while they can be moved slightly by the tamandua, have not been able to be moved enough to be knocked off the shelf. 
      • Hammocks have been used in some facilities for their ability to be unclipped to aid in moving the tamandua
    • Many tamandua prefer nesting with cover.  Providing towels, burlap, pet beds, substrates or other appropriate items in chosen nesting areas will encourage their use.
  • Depending on individuals, some tamandua spend a lot of time digging. It is recommended that all habitats have a dig barrier in place.
  • Tamandua have been seen to utilize a large water feature/tub in the habitat. 
    • Some tamanduas (particularly males) have been known to use a large tub as a latrine to defecate in.
    • Many tamandua will bathe in larger water sources if offered.
  • They can be great escape artists would do best in a fully enclosed exhibit
    • Standard chain-link is commonly used with adult tamandua, but should not be used for any newborn/juvenile tamandua as the holes are too large. Newborn tamandua can fit through the links and young juveniles may get limbs stuck.

Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles

  • Temperature:  Tamandua’s body temperatures are some of the lowest of any active land mammal. They are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations and should be offered climate controlled areas to maintain consistent temperatures.
    • Some facilities offer heated nesting spaces for outdoor habitats instead of full climate control. While mostly used in temperate climates, this setup needs to be very closely monitored for those with more seasonal changes.
    • Reid Park Zoo (Tucson, AZ): tamanduas have constant access to a climate controlled night house that is maintained at 75 degrees.  Our individuals are rarely locked inside as they readily self-maintain proper temperatures and our weather does not get overly cold.  We will lock them inside during extremes however. 
  • Humidity:  Their native habitats are often very humid, ranging between 30-70%+ average humidity.  Higher humidity, particularly in their nesting areas, is recommended.
    • Tamandua are susceptible to dryness and cracking on the pads of their feet, tail, nose and ears.  Increased humidity helps alleviate this. 
  • Light:  Tamanduas in the wild have been documented to seasonally vary behavioral patterns based on their need for thermoregulation. Due to this, you may see varying activity levels throughout the day that change seasonally.   
    • Reid Park Zoo has had our tamanduas adjust to our feeding schedule and we will typically see periods of higher activity pre and post feeding times (3x per day).  Otherwise activity levels vary across individuals.  We have also seen lots of seasonality from ours (housed with outdoor access). They will exhibit much higher rates of activity throughout the spring/fall, will slow during the day during peak summer months with increased evening/overnight activity, and generally decreased activity overall throughout the winter. 

Substrate

  • As tamanduas exhibit digging as one of their primary natural behaviors, it is recommended to have digging options available in their habitats. 
    • Dig boxes, full substrate floors or outdoor walks with opportunities to dig may be good options.
    • Common substrates used are mulch, grass/sod, dirt, sand (sometimes with a gravel mix) and straw/hay.
    • In full-substrate housing, regular cleaning and substrate changes are needed to keep down smell and fully clean area of stool.
      • Reid Park Zoo houses our tamandua on a dirt pad outdoors covered with 2-4 inches of mulch and a nighthouse area with a concrete-lined pad filled with 4-6 inches of either a dirt/sand mix or mulch.  
        • Our mulch comes from chipped browse limbs and is generally large in size. 
        • We spot clean and remove any soiled mulch daily and change all substrate quarterly (or more often if needed), alternating indoor and outdoor habitats.
  • Many tamanduas housed indoors do well on concrete floors as long as it is not rough and sealed well.  

Social Housing/Colony Management

  • Tamanduas are primarily solitary animals and have not been typically housed together except for breeding and with juvenile offspring. 
    • Many facilities have housed breeding pairs together successfully for extended periods of time before a pregnancy is seen.  It is recommended to separate the male from the female as she gets close to giving birth.
    • An exception is seen at London Zoo where they house a family group of tamanduas in their Rainforest Life habitat.
  • Individuals have been seen to vary in their tolerance of other tamandua close to their living space. 
    • At Reid Park Zoo, we have had one female who was not able to be housed in an enclosure with a shared fence next to other females.  She would demonstrate aggressive behaviors at the fenceline and becomes stressed if close to other females. She has done fine with her own female offspring however (shared housing for a year, with three months split housing) and is typically housed next to a male tamandua with no abnormal behaviors seen. 

Other General Housing Requirements or Management information

Diet Requirements

Diet in the Wild

  • In the wild, tamandua diets are primarily made up of ants, termites and other small invertebrates.  They can consume up to 9,000 a day. 
    • Depending on the locale where found, the amount and type of insects consumed varies. 
  • They will generally find their prey through their sharp sense of smell and then excavate the insect nest with their sharp claws and strong forearms. They have an approximately foot-long tongue which they can stick into insect tunnels and use sticky saliva to slurp out insects. 
  • They will seek out insects both on the ground as well as within treetops. Tamandua have even been known to raid bee hives, eating both the honey and larvae.
  • Tamandua have been seen to also consume other produce items, mostly fallen fruit.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that they prefer over-ripened fruit to fresh.  Some facilities have begun to experiment with fermenting fruit to offer to their tamandua. 

Diet under human care

  • Due to their lack of teeth and unique mouth adaptations, the consistency of a tamandua diet is an important consideration.  Most diets are made into a semi-liquid consistency for easy slurping.  
  • Other items should either be small enough to fit readily into their mouth (opening approximately the diameter of a pencil) or soft/liquidy enough to be mushed and slurped into mouth.
  • Mazuri Insectivore diet provides a base diet for many tamanduas in human care.  It is offered in a variety of fashions:  plain/dry, ground up (and then sometimes reconstituted into a gruel), soaked (with water/juice/gatorade) and many also supplement this diet with additional vitamins/produce/insects/protein items.
    • Note: In October 2019, Mazuri adjusted the insectivore diet to better reflect nutritional needs, including a reduction in the calcium levels in the product after concerns that previous levels were too high for tamanduas.
    • Per PAX Tag Nutritionist (Heidi Bissell) : “The new Mazuri insectivore formulation is greatly improved over former versions, but still a little on the high side. Be sure to avoid dairy, dog, and primate foods because of high calcium and vitamin D levels. Have someone balance your diet to ensure that the Ca levels are < 1% (ideally < 0.5%) and D < 2,000 IU/kg (ideally <1,000)”
    • 2018 – PAX Tag Mazuri announcement and recommendations for calcium/vitamin D levels for tamandua and giant anteaters
  • Other options as a base diet have been Reliable Protein Fare’s Insectivore diet (https://www.zoofood.com/insectivore.html), wet/dry cat or dog foods and ground meat mixtures.
  • Some facilities have begun to experiment with creating a “smoothie” mix of a variety of foods to meet nutritional needs
    • Houston Zoo (2019) used a mixture of ground leafeater, Canin Low fat GI feline, probiotic, ground spinach and beans.
  • As an insectivore, most facilities offer some amount of insects (mealworms, crickets [most facilities will cut large crickets before consumption], wax worms, black soldier fly larvae) to supplement the diet.  These are often also used for training and enrichment.
  • Many facilities offer avocado as part of daily diets. 
  • Honey, jam, molasses, meat/fruit baby food, applesauce and yogurt are often used as enrichment and training items.
    • Reid Park Zoo will offer these in syringe covers for easy reinforcement
    • Tropical fruit baby foods (mango, papaya, pineapple) have been especially big hits
  • Greensboro Science Center – Diet (2018):  Mazuri Insectivore, cat food, dog food, blueberries, carrots. (our female is really picky with what she will and will not eat)
  • Reid Park Zoo (2020) – Base diet is fed out 3 times a day: 1/3 cup Mazuri Insectivore (soaked in warm water and mashed to a smooth consistency similar to pudding), 1, 2.5oz jar of meat-based baby food (we currently feed out Beechnut beef, chicken and turkey as they do not have any starch additives in the baby food). Also 60 wax worms per day, generally fed out through training or in enrichment.
    • Supplements are added SID (typically into the AM diets as ours eat best first thing)
    • They also have 1/2 an avocado (no pit) and another produce item a day (rotation is cucumber, tomato, orange, but also occasionally can have papaya (no seeds), melon, citrus fruits, pumpkin, pomegranates etc. instead)
    • Some of our tamandua have had allergies to certain types of proteins, so be aware of this if seeing any digestion issues
    • We previously fed out yogurt and Gerber baby food, but phased out yogurt to reduce calcium/sugar intake and switched baby food brands as Gerber adds corn starch. 
      • Note: The diet change-over was difficult on our more geriatric tamandua and resulted in a very slowed down diet transition. 
    • For our geriatric tamandua, we have increased the water ratio to their diet to give more support for their kidneys. 

Veterinary Concerns

Denver ultrasound

Ultrasound at Denver Zoo

  • Most veterinary procedures (blood draws, ultrasounds etc.) can be accomplished voluntarily.
  • Vitamins and supplementation –  Due to the low amount of data available for tamanduas, the information regarding proper nutrition and vitamin levels is constantly evolving.  Recommendations have previously been announced by PAX Tag and tamandua care staff should sign up for emails and be alert to any changes. 
    • 2018 – PAX Tag Mazuri announcement and recommendations for calcium/vitamin D levels for tamandua and giant anteaters
    • Vitamins should be overseen by veterinary staff and offered based on individual and dietary need 
    • Commonly supplemented vitamins: 
      • Vitamin K- tamandua, like most anteaters, need supplemented Vitamin K due to tendencies towards “hemorrhagic problems unless supplemented, particularly when the animals had been treated with antibiotics” -Fowler’s Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine
      • Taurine –  Taurine deficiencies can lead to cardiac issues.  They also have been seen in young tamandua who are being reared on dog/cat formulas and supplementing taurine into those diets is recommended. 
    • Reid Park Zoo supplementation: 
      • Vitamin K
      • Taurine
      • Probiotic – 4g of Benebac PetGel is added to the diets once a week
      • Vitamin C – A facility had a young tamandua present with scurvy years ago and we have supplemented as a preventative since.  On our last re-evaluation of diet, we kept the vitamin C due to potential for other positive impacts and no evident concerns.
      • Geriatric supplementation (only under vet approval as organ function values start to decline)
        • SAMe – for liver support
        • Azodyl – for kidney support
        • Cosequin – for joint support
  • Environmental concerns- 
    • May have sensitive, cracking skin, especially on pads of feet or tip of tail, when humidity is low. Increase humidity and/or treat topically with ointment.
      • Reid Park Zoo will moisturize feet and tail once a month with Cetaphil moisturizer and utilize as needed to keep feet in good condition during winter months
    • Need to have ready access to climate controlled areas, particularly in winter months.  May present with nasal discharge and lethargy if not able to properly thermoregulate.
  • Cycling – 
    • Vaginal spotting of blood is a common occurrence in this species. It is cyclical based on their hormonal cycling, but may not always be expressed.  Movement and stress can increase output. 
    • Estrus cycles have been shown to average around 42 days for tamanduas. 
    • Cincinnati Zoo has developed a score chart to document bleeding rates (poster presentation – 2020 AZA Conference)
  • Geriatric tamandua are commonly diagnosed with arthritis, renal failure, liver disease and calcification of arteries (hypercalcemia). 
    • Hypercalcemia – geriatric tamanduas have presented with soft tissue mineralization and increase of mineral deposits particularly along the spine that have contributed to arthritic loss of motion.  This may be due to increased vitamin A, D or calcium in historic diets offered.  Kidney disease may also be a factor. 
  • Tamanduas have been found to exhibit allergies to common proteins found in commercially available foods. If exhibiting consistent gastrointestinal issues, an allergy panel may be useful. 
  • Tamanduas will also sometimes slough off intestinal lining and will have fecals with cloudy casing and a spotting of blood. If persisting or seen more frequently, may be due to other gastrointestinal concerns and should be referred to a vet. 
  • Diabetes has been documented infrequently in tamanduas. 
    • Reid Park Zoo had a pregnant female present with diabetes.  It was managed quickly through insulin injections as well as dietary changes with no evident impact on her offspring.  She was weaned off insulin after nursing was finished and stabilized readily. 
  • Gastric ulcers – some tamandua have been diagnosed with gastric ulcers that were (from communication with keepers) exacerbated due to citrus consumption
  • Tongues (damage/entanglement) – enrichment, diet and habitat should be closely monitored for any loose items that may cause an issue with their tongues.  Tongue damage can be extremely distressing for an individual and difficult to treat.
    • Raw meat should be offered with care as several tamandua have been documented to get sinew wrapped around their tongues, causing entrapment and potential further damage

Enrichment & Training 

Enrichment 

Behavioral Relevant Information 

  • Tamandua are semi-arboreal animals.   Studies of activity patterns in Venezuela have estimated them to spend between 13-64% of their time in treetops.
  • They have been noted to sleep in nooks and empty crevices in trees, but will sometimes also be documented in holes and shallow nests on the ground (particularly those of Giant Armadillos)
  • Adapted to primarily feed on insects, they have strong upper arms with sharp claws for digging, ripping and tearing as well as a narrow snout and long sticky tongue meant for searching insect nests.
  • They have a prehensile tail that is used as a fourth limb primarily for balance as they forage and travel through trees.  They can hang by this tail for brief periods of time, and have excellent strength to readily pull themselves up. 

Environmental Enrichment 

  • Climbing structures – tubes, ropes, hammocks, tire swings and moveable perche
  • Rest/nesting areas – suspended buckets, shelves, nest boxes, barrels cut in half, tunnels
  • Substrates – mulch, grass clippings, substrates from other animal habitats, sand, sod clods, rootballs
  • Dynamic perching – opportunities to have perching that allows for bending/movement as would be seen naturally in trees
  • Ground obstacles – substrate piles, logs, tunnels, dens, nest boxes
  • Water opportunities – tubs, running hose ‘waterfalls’, mud wallows, suspended cups with water
  • Sensory – changed temperatures, ice piles, heated rocks, music/natural sound changes, mirrors, windsocks, windchimes
    • Smells – spices, perfumes, we regularly exchange logs/enrichment with other animals (particularly giant anteaters)

Behavioral Enrichment 

  • They really like to tear apart rotten stumps and logs, especially if there are insects inside.
  • Boxes and cardboard tubes can be stuffed with paper (newspaper, tissue, shredded) for tamandua to tear apart to forage for worms.
  • PVC tube feeders are great to put honey or other treats into and can be hung around the enclosure.
  • If you allow your enrichment worms to climb into lettuce heads, they seem to enjoy ripping them apart to find the worms (and make a huge mess!)
  • Instructions for paper mache termite mound (Hose2Habitat)
  • Small plastic cups or buckets can be attached with carabiners to offer foraging opportunities up in perching 
  • Logs can be drilled with holes and have food items added.  Holes can also be plugged with corks to provide opportunities to dig out food items
  • Browse, particularly when seeded with insects or having honey smears 
P1020152

Straw, mud and bamboo ‘Termite Mound’

DSCF1081

Recycled coffee bean burlap bag hammock

Schedule 

  • Reid Park Zoo offers daily environmental/behavioral enrichment opportunities, usually 2-3 times a day with their diet.  Tamandua are also trained for presentations or husbandry proceedures minimum 3 times a week and should be taken out for walk/program once a week. 

Other Enrichment Resources 

Training 

Behaviors Trained 

  • Can easily be trained to crate. Providing diet and/or bedding in the crate will increase their comfort level.
  • They can be trained to target and heel. Worthwhile to build relationship and train for behaviors that facilitate handling. They are strong and difficult to handle without compliance
  • Denver Zoo: Tamanduas are presented on a rolling cart/table with a perch on it to demo their climbing behaviors. They eat meal worms and can target during this demo as well
  • San Diego Zoo:  See their great article (San Diego Zoo Tamandua AASAG article) in the Summer 2020 AASAG Newsletter (https://aaric.org/2020/07/09/summer-2020/) detailing the development of their training and demonstrations with their two tamandua. 
  • Reid Park Zoo: Trained behaviors document 
    • Ultrasounds – Our tamandua have been conditioned to allow us to pick them up and have them seated in our laps for an ultrasound.  They are offered reinforcers throughout.  This is very useful to have the ability to ideally position tamandua as well as have long ultrasounds.  We have not seen adverse reactions while using this process, however we are also beginning to intro a PVC stand that allows us access to their abdomen to give the tamandua better control in the procedure

      RPZ Xray behavior

                                                    Tamandua X-ray at Reid Park Zoo

    • Blood draws – we currently take our tamandua into our hospital for blood draws.  We ask them to allow us to pick them up (‘lift’ cue) and position them on an elevated table with their tails hanging off the side.  They are offered reinforcers while blood is drawn from their tail.
    • Injections – our tamandua have been minimally reactive to injections and we have been able to readily inject for vaccinations in the same set-up as blood draws. We also have done insulin injections in habitat, both in non-Protected Contact (offering worms and inject) or in PC (through fence, trained to come ontostation and rest hip/shoulder against mesh). 
    • Xray – Tamandua are trained to stand upright with their front paws resting on a PVC stand.  Intermittent reinforcement is placed in cup, allowing for long pauses in motion for improved radiograph clarity.

Reinforcers used & schedule of reinforcement

20170623_183149

Clear PVC with honey for feeding demonstration at Reid Park Zoo

  • Common training treats include mealworms, wax worms, cut-up crickets, honey, papaya, grapes, avocado, applesauce, banana, baby foods (both meat and fruit) and yogurt
  • Reinforcement is commonly offered from hand or on perching, but also in syringe covers, PVC tubes, clear, flexible tubing and from a variety of cups.
    • Clear, long items also allow guests to see the length of tamandua tongues as well as ability to ‘slurp’
    • Guests can also hold worms in their fists to make a ‘tube’ so they can feel the tamandua tongue seeking out/picking up the worms. 

Other

Colony or Breeding Management

  • Tamandua breeding can be very aggressive and may be dangerous without oversight, particularly for young, inexperienced tamandua.
    • The Tamandua SSP is a good resource to help with any questions on breeding. 
  • Estrous cycle is around 40-45 days
    • Estrus is between 7-12 days and is usually 5-10 days after last vulvar bleed
  • Gestation is approximately 5 months (130-150 days)
  • Signs of pregnancy include:  social distancing (if co-housed with male for breeding), behavioral changes (highly variable among individuals: increased territoriality and decreased activity levels are common), mammary swelling, weight gain
    • Regular ultrasounds are recommended due to difficulty in predicting successful breeding.  Increased thickness of uterine lining can be a sign of pregnancy. 
  • Usually only one young (pup) born at a time. Pregnancies with twins have been reported, but have not been successfully carried to term.
  • Mothers may leave pups in nesting areas for the first few weeks, but will generally begin carrying them on their backs for the majority of the time.
  • Young may begin separating from the adults at about 6-8 months of age (also when they can become sexually mature)
  • There have been many facilities who have hand-reared their tamandua offspring, many times due to maternal neglect by young and inexperienced tamandua mothers. 
    • If breeding, it is recommended to have an updated hand-rearing protocol in place.

Programmatic Information

Messaging Themes

  • Think twice before clearing dead trees from your property. Many animals, like tamanduas, use dead trees for habitat.
  • Pet trade: Tamanduas are taken from the wild for the pet trade at an increasing rate. Unfortunately many die during the process. Tamanduas are not pets and are extremely hard to care for due to strict dietary needs, their natural behaviors of digging, climbing and scent marking and need for space.  Educational poster available by downloading here or by contacting Reid Park Zoo at jennifers@reidparkzoo.org  Also available in Spanish and Portuguese.
  • Human-Wildlife Interactions:  In South America, anteaters are one of the most common animals injured or killed by cars. The Anteaters and Highways project (https://www.giantanteater.org/) is working to research how roads through habitat areas in Brazil impact various species. They also are working with local government to develop better road management practices for important wildlife corridors.  
    • Tamanduas also have negative myths about them in certain areas.  One common myth is some believe they can cause bad luck if crossing their path. Learning more about the species and educating others about them can help dispel the myths and improve their image.
  • Shade-grown coffee: The original coffee plants that were cultivated could not withstand much sunlight and were therefore grown beneath the canopy of the forest. Due to the popularity of coffee, most strains of coffee plants have been cultivated over time to withstand full sunlight. This has created large-scale deforestation for coffee plantations. Please ask guests to choose organic shade-grown coffee in which the plants are grown beneath the forest canopy, preserving arboreal habitat for tamarins, marmosets, sakis, binturongs, and birds while the forest floor is being used for human purposes. Look for coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified or marked “Organic Shade-Grown”. http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-beverages/organic-shade-grown-coffee.htmlhttp://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/crops/coffee

Threats and Conservation Status

  • Listed by IUCN as Least Concern. Loss of habitat and the pet trade are major concerns. The skin is sometimes used to make leather products.

Interesting Natural History Informationoso yawn

  • Tamanduas have no teeth, but the tongue can be nearly twelve inches long. The entire tongue may be seen when it is protruded in the anteater version of a yawn. 
  • The tamandua has a strong, unpleasant odor, which can be sprayed from anal glands if the animal is frightened.
  •  The tail is long, with sparser hair, and very muscular. It is prehensile and can easily support the entire body weight of the animal. 
  • Front feet have long, inwardly-curling toes and claws, and they walk on the outside of the front feet rather than the palm or underside of the toes.
  • Southern tamandua coloration varies greatly.  Individuals can range from pure white to full black, either with a ‘vest’ or without.  Their snout sizes also are longer in the northern areas of their range. 

Did you know…

  • Tamanduas eat approximately 9,000 ants a day
  • The mouth of a tamandua only opens to the diameter of a pencil
  • When tamandua yawn, they extend their whole tongue
  • Their prehensile tail is used to grasp onto branches and to help keep their balance high up in the trees.

Handling & Presentation Tips

  • If using a perch for a presentation, having them target to hang down by their tail is always impressive to show off their prehensile tail
  • Standing is a good trained behavior to demonstrate their defensive posture.
  • Tamanduas have no teeth and cannot bite, but they can strike really fast with their front claws and can cause large amounts of damage. 
    • Special articulations on their lumbar vertebrae make them extremely strong for their size.
  • Females may become too agitated to participate in programs during cycling.  Vulvar bleeding has also been noted to increase when doing some presentations due to increased physical activity and stimulation. 

Use Guidelines 

  • San Diego Zoo:  See their great article (San Diego Zoo Tamandua AASAG article) in the Summer 2020 AASAG Newsletter (https://aaric.org/2020/07/09/summer-2020/) detailing the development of their training and demonstrations with their two tamandua. 
  • Houston Zoo: we use a harness for our tamanduas. We do not allow guests to touch the animals but we do allowguests to feed them treats from a syringe in limited numbers or for VIP experiences.
  • Reid Park Zoo: 
    • Tamandua are generally utilized in 3 types of presentations. 
      • Stage presentation – formal or informal encounter using stage perching or a mobile perch set-up.  Tamandua will walk out of a crate and be targeted onto perching. Will occasionally walk to presentation area through zoo, but will not stop for guest interactions until has reached stage area.  Will target/demonstrate other behaviors while presenting information, ideally by a second staff member 
        • Note: usually these presentations are on-mic and tamandua behavior is monitored closely. Our tamanduas have sometimes shown agitated behaviors when mics are too loud/speakers are set-up in unfamiliar locations/guest or background noise is louder than usual. As they can be noise-sensitive, training for presentations with a variety of background noise is recommended to increase resiliency in a variety of situations.
      • Animal encounter – usually a behind the scenes encounter where tamandua will be stationed on a perch and allow an up-close touching/feeding encounter in addition to stage-style demonstration of behaviors. The tamandua always has one dedicated trainer focused on the animal in addition to at least one other staff member to facilitate guest engagement. 
      • Classroom program – these programs have different themes, but use similar behaviors (targeting, climbing various perches) and will show off a variety of natural behaviors (eating/tongue demo, climbing skills, tail usage) as well as demonstrate various husbandry behaviors in conjunction with pictures/video of actual vet procedures (weigh on scale, demonstrate ultrasound, stethoscope, pretend blood draw etc.) They will sometimes include guest interactions as well.

Public Contact and Interaction Guidelines

  • Put favored treats in the bottom of a clear plastic tube, such as a syringe holder, to show off the very long tongue.
  • Many tamanduas can be desensitized to allow guests to touch them.
  • Reid Park Zoo – presentations require two staff present, one trainer and one staff to facilitate guest interactions. Trainer ensures tamandua always has a high-focus on training throughout the encounter and will call session if seeing beginnings of unfocused behaviors.
    • Touching: Trainer will target tamandua facing away from the guest, keeping the head/claws facing them. Guests are allowed two finger touches from the shoulder blades to base of tail. Trainer can also hold tail lightly and offer to guest for a brief 1 finger touch as well. 
    • Feeding: Trainer will stand between tamandua and guests while they offer worms/honey either off their hand or from a tube. Trainer ensures all four feet of tamandua are always on a perch during feeding and prevents any reaching out for reinforcers. 

Transportation Tips

Crating Techniques 

  • Reid Park Zoo:  We utilize medium to large pet transport crates.  Two towels are typically used for bedding in the crates.  As tamandua can shred the plastic if overstimulated, care is always taken to check crates for any damage as well as ensure calm behavior throughout transport.  We do not have any off-grounds presentations with our tamandua and attempt to coordinate crate times to have animals sitting for less than 15 minutes before/after presentations.

Temperature Guidelines 

Acquisition Information

  • Please work with the Tamandua SSP studbook keeper first for captive bred tamandua acquisition.
    • Current SSP Coordinator is Harrison Edell at Houston Zoo (harrison.edell@dallaszoo.com)
  • Any facility that is looking to acquire wild caught animals (or “captive-bred” animals from any non-AZA facility, for that matter) is encouraged to contact the Studbook Keeper first, as there are some AZA institutions that have had particularly negative experiences with specific importers.
  • An AZA listserv has been created for those interested in tamanduas, which may prove a useful tool in sharing husbandry notes. To post to this list, you may send email to: tamandua@lists.aza.org; general information about the mailing list is available at http://lists.aza.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/tamandua.

Resources

Contributors and Citations (Heading 2)

Top Photo Credit: 

Katie Hutchinson:  Reid Park Zoo