The Giant Armadillo Project

Contributors: Arnaud Desbiez, Giant Armadillo Project; Renee Bumpus, Houston Zoo

When you visit the Houston Zoo, you may be lucky enough to see our 3-banded armadillos out and around with our zookeepers.  We love our armadillos and are committed to helping their species in the wild. The Houston Zoo values its ability to be a voice for species that very few people have ever even heard of. The armadillo family has one of those members in great need of help called the giant armadillo.

Giant Armadillo

Millions of years ago South America was dominated by giants such as the gigantic ground sloths which could reach over nine feet long and weigh more than 750 pounds, or gargantuan heavily armored glyptodonts which could reach the size of a small automobile. Today, these giants are all but gone. However, almost forgotten by science, one species reminiscent of this amazing past still exists: the giant armadillo. Although much smaller than their prehistoric relatives, a 70 pound armadillo can still be very impressive.

Arnaud Desbiez has been dedicating his life to studying these amazing creatures about which very little are known. He started the Giant Armadillo Project in Brazil with a main goal to investigate the ecology and biology of this species and understand its function in the ecosystem.

One of the great discoveries of the project was the role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers (organisms that create or modify habitats). Our research in the Brazilian Pantanal shows that giant armadillo burrows are an important shelter and thermal refuge to over 25 species ranging from tiny lizards to large collared peccaries. Giant armadillo burrows offer an important refuge from extreme conditions (temperature in the deep burrow is a constant 750f) and their role may become more important as impacts from climate change increases.

Another big discovery of the project was documenting the birth and parental care of giant armadillos. We discovered that the gestation period is 5 months and they only have 1 young at a time which requires constant care and nursing for a minimum of 6 months!

Giant Armadillo Release

Giant armadillos are naturally rare throughout their distribution and are becoming even rarer because of human impacts. Due to their low population densities and low reproductive rates, they can rapidly disappear locally. Habitat loss and hunting are the main threats to the species. They may also be targeted by collectors for their giant middle fore claw. Other impacts contributing to the decline of populations include fire and being struck by vehicles on main roads.  Finally, the fact that few people know of their existence is a threat, if no one knows about an animal, who will protect it? Giant armadillos can go locally extinct without anyone noticing.

Giant Armadillo ClawThe Giant Armadillo Project provides training to the next generation of conservationists. They also work hard to educate the local community so that giant armadillos become ambassadors for biodiversity conservation and integrate the project into local and national conservation initiatives.

The Zoo is saving Giant armadillos in the wild by:

  • Assisting by providing promotional and educational materials for their outreach initiatives
  • Providing a salary for a local Brazilian biologist employee to assist with research and conservation

You can save Giant armadillos in the wild by:

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