Giant armadillo project update – June and July expeditions

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

As we head off to the field for the August expedition, I wanted to update you on the past two expeditions we ran in the Pantanal. Before I start I must say the team and I were overwhelmed by the kind response we received following our update on the fate of Alex. We are very grateful to all of you. We really appreciate seeing how involved in the work so many people are. Alex’s fate was even discussed in an article in the Guardian. He was also the subject of the 52 WEEKS – Nature Painting Challenge on Facebook and over 30 portraits of him were painted, all of them are very creative and some are really stunning.

'Jessica' - Giant armadillo caught on trail cam

‘Jessica’ – Giant armadillo caught on trail cam

Besides this tragic loss, a lot happened during the June expedition that I did not have a chance to tell you about. We managed to locate all four females and the male that the project is currently monitoring.  Each female was located several times, however none displayed nesting behaviour. For Roberta who is only a few months older than Alex that is to be expected. We continued working hard to try to find Roberta’s mother Dolores, but there was no sign of her. Having lost Alex, Roberta could help us understand more about giant armadillo dispersal.

The July expedition was very productive despite the crazy weather. We got a lot of rain which is rare in the dry season and temperatures fluctuated a lot. The highlight of the expedition was finding a new female giant armadillo, as well as fitting Mariana with a GPS tag.

The giant armadillo conservation project team

The giant armadillo conservation project team

It was such a wonderful surprise to find an occupied giant armadillo burrow on my birthday. It is only through sheer luck and a lot of hard work that we find an occupied burrow. The last new animal caught was Jessica in January.  It is such a magnificent feeling, such a rush of adrenaline… then of course our minds race with the possibility of whom this could be.

Bruna and Maria undergoing telemetry training

Bruna and Maria undergoing telemetry training

That evening it started raining, then it started pouring…  When the radio signal went off indicating the trap had closed we ran under a downpour of rain.  However due to the rain, it had not closed properly and the armadillo had escaped.  We watched under the freezing rain as the armadillo dug back into her burrow. Suddenly I could feel my 41 years become 91  in every bone of my body.  It was late, dark, pouring rain, feeling cold, tired and miserable I shoveled through the sand, digging the entrance to reset the trap. We all returned to the truck soaking wet and cold to wait many more hours. After the initial scare the animal did not come again that night, however we had more success the following evening. The sight, sounds and smell of a giant armadillo instantly brought me back to a childlike state of pure joy! Happy Birthday (one day late!). We called this beautiful young female Tracy, after one of the first researchers to study giant armadillos Tracy Carter. We look forward to unraveling whatever secrets she has to share.

During the expedition we also continued to monitor the other giant armadillos. As in June we concluded that none of our females were exhibiting nesting behavior. We retrieved the GPS tag that had fallen off of Wally our male giant armadillo. We also checked through our camera traps and we were delighted to see some pictures of Houdini. He was using a burrow that had been occupied the week before by Wally! We would love to find Houdini again. Maybe in August!  In the Northern area of our study area, an unknown female giant armadillo was also photographed. Who is she? After making sure she was not nesting, we caught Mariana and fit her with a GPS tag.  She continues to look beautiful and healthy.

Now we are back in the field, wish us luck for the few weeks!


Dr Arnaud Desbiez
RZSS Regional Coordinator (Latin America)


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