Ambassadors for the Silent Giants

As an AZA-accredited Zoo, Reid Park Zoological Society has taken a strong position to help protect wild animals and wild places. Through our financial contributions, we are able to provide the necessary resources to organizations around the world. Reid Park Zoo currently has a close partnership with Dr. Arnaud Desbiez, a Whitley Award-winning scientist, and his team of field researchers in Brazil.

One of the projects Dr. Desbiez coordinates is Anteaters and Highways. This four-year research project started in January 2017 and is devoted to the conservation of the giant anteater, an iconic vulnerable South American mammal. The project is stationed in Brazil’s Cerrado biome of Mato Grosso do Sul. In the last thirty-five years, this region has quickly been divided by a widespread system of roads, pastures and agricultural lands which has significantly affected the mortality rate for local wildlife, especially the giant anteater. While the loss of habitat has had a detrimental impact on this species, the greatest threat these animals face is the road system due to high vehicle collision occurrences and movement barriers.

Gaining an understanding and calculating the impact these roads have on giant anteaters as well as determining the consequences on their densities, population, and health are the main goals of this project. With the research outcomes, the team’s challenge is to develop landscape and road management strategies to prevent the possible extinction of these remarkable animals. Having the opportunity to work closely with these types of projects is where our heart lies.

This past year, Reid Park Zoo had the great opportunity to donate $20,000 to help support the Anteaters and Highways’ efforts. These funds allowed Dr. Desbiez and his team to hire a new educator, who will lead the environmental education and communications side of their work. She will be working with the field staff and zoo partners for the project to build an action plan for 2019 and continue educating the public on the importance of the research findings. These funds are also providing the team the opportunity to buy supplies, equipment, and help with vehicle maintenance when needed. This donation was from your Zoo on behalf of our guests. If you took a photo with Santa last year at Zoo Lights or fed our giraffes you were a part of making this possible, and, for that, we thank you.

Our teens also play a huge role in giving us the opportunity to support conservation work. Alongside our donation, our teens and the Greenville Zoo worked together to fund an amazing educational children’s book titled “O Incrível Tamanduá-Bandeira” that addresses the superstitions surrounding the giant anteater This book will assist in educating children about this iconic species and their important role in the ecosystem; inspiring their desire to help protect these beautiful animals.

So, what has the Anteaters and Highways project accomplished in the last year? So much!
They have been able to:

  • Survey a stretch of over 18,020 miles of highway
  • Record the number of vehicle collisions involving the giant anteater while collecting samples
  • Established a large study area along with two sub-study areas on various ranches
  • Fitted 18 giant anteaters with GPS harnesses
  • Worked with local communities and conducted interviews in an attempt to better understand their perception of wildlife and the core misunderstandings and superstitions they have of the giant anteater

This information helped Anteaters and Highways create the children’s book and develop teacher guidelines to help explain the book, human/wildlife conflict, and biodiversity conservation. The team has also worked very hard to build strong relationships with local ranch owners and their staff to gain more study areas and build awareness of their cause. The result of these partnerships has led to things like a ranch owner creating a billboard along one of the highways that addresses the importance of preserving the land’s biodiversity and features a giant anteater and the project’s logo. This owner was once unaware of the need for projects like these and is now a huge fan of it and is allowing the team to monitor five anteaters on his property. Milestones like this are monumental in the progress of this project; which will ultimately lead to more protection for the giant anteater and habitat.

By registering for the Conservation Connection event, you too can help protect giant anteaters in the wild! To register for the event, click here.