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.
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 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.
The 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:
- Come to a special talk at the Zoo to learn more about giant armadillos! Learn more here.
- Being careful when you buy wood products. Some furniture and other items are made with wood from Central and South America. Buy refurbished, antique or locally sourced wood products to avoid supporting wood imports. Maple, Oak, or Pine are usually better choices.
- Friend the Giant Armadillo Project on Facebook to stay informed and share their success.
- Friend the Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Facebook Page for updates.
- Donating directly to save armadillos in the wild
- Visiting the Zoo. Every time you visit the Zoo a portion of your admission or membership goes to saving animals in the wild.