Brazil studies preservation of world’s smallest anteater

It lives in a region where four of the six Brazilian biomes meet

Published in 23/08/2021 - 12:37 By Bruno Bocchini - São Paulo

For the first time, Brazilian scientists were able to collect the semen of a rare anteater species: the silky anteater, or Cyclopes didactylus, known in Portuguese as tamanduaí, an animal with dense and short fur and yellow-golden color, measuring a mere 30 centimeters—the world’s tiniest.

The collection was the first step to enabling the assisted reproduction of the animal, which lives in Northeast Brazil, more specifically in the River Parnaíba Delta, between the states of Piauí and Maranhão. According to Professor Flávia Miranda, from the Animal Science department of the State University of Santa Cruz, more than the animal’s preservation, its protection stands for the maintenance of the entire ecosystem.

 tamanduá: o Cyclopes didactylus
Cyclopes didactylus - Instituto Tamanduá /Fundação Grupo Boticário

Umbrella species

“The tamanduaí is an umbrella species—that’s a term we’ve been using. By preserving the species, we are preserving other species living in the same ecosystem. We are using the species as a symbol to preserve the marshes. The Paraníba delta is among Brazil’s largest swamps, and crucial because it serves as a nursery for sea life,” said the professor, who participates in the research and is also a member of the Network for Nature Conservation Specialists (RECN).

The Environmental Protection Area of the Parnaíba delta is the meeting point of sections of four of Brazil’s six biomes: the Cerrado, the Northeastern Atlantic Forest, the Amazon, and the Caatinga, and boasts marshes and restingas. It is considered one of the planet’s most productive ecosystems, forming a key area for the conservation of biodiversity.

Monitored reproduction

Little is known about these little critters and how many live on the coast of Northeast Brazil. They are also known as tamanduás-fantasma (ghost anteaters), as they rarely come down to the ground, are nocturnal, live by themselves, and feed mostly from ants.

“With the semen collected and the conventional tests conducted, we’ll be able to start a new phase and carry out the monitored reproductive research. Keeping a minimum population of anteater healthy and genetically viable makes it possible to expand our knowledge bout the species and give support to free-life individuals. This is one of the tools for preventing extinction and reintroduce them to their natural habitat, if needed,” Miranda pointed out.

The animal is classified by the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with deficient data due to the extremely scarce knowledge about it. A specimen of the Cyclopes didactylus, which came to the possession of the researchers after being seized in an operation, should be taken to the São Paulo aquarium.

The studies on the silky anteater are part of a project by the Anteater Institute, in collaboration with the Federal University of Minas Gerais, and the Chico Mendes Institute, and the support of the Boticário Group Foundation.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Nélio Neves de Andrade / Nira Foster

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