My introduction to Aardvarks was on Saturday mornings, when “Aardvark” chased a red ant named “Charlie”, always unsuccessful in catching his meal, in the cartoon “The Aardvark and the Ant”. I did like the Aardvark, although I must admit I rooted for the ant!
Later, I found out that Aardvarks aren’t blue and don’t wear shirts and shorts. They do eat ants and beetles, but the majority of the food they eat comes in the form of termites. They use their long and sharp claws on their front feet to dig into the hard ground and open termite mounds. A long, thin tongue is used to pick up the termites from the exposed tunnels. To make the process of eating thousands of termites more efficient the Aardvarks don’t chew their food (a lot like my bulldogs at home), and use the heavily muscled walls of their stomach to crush anything that they eat.
Aardvarks are solitary animals and spend most of their time out of their burrows at night. The burrows and the piles of dirt they excavate are important in providing dens and habitats for a large number of other animal and plant species. When they leave their burrows, Aardvarks will travel up to three miles in search of food, usually taking a path that zigzags through their home range. Aardvarks have scent glands and males are attracted to females in estrus when the female emits a particular scent. Females will give birth to a single offspring (sometimes twins are produced) after a seven month pregnancy and the male doesn’t help raise the young. The youngsters are born in the dens and will have their eyes open at birth and also have fully developed claws.
Because of their nocturnal habits, and the fact that they like to lead a more secretive life than the blue Aardvark I watched on Saturday morning, Aardvarks usually do not interact with humans. Unfortunately, farmers in Africa would prefer that these animals stay off of their property, since their burrows cause problems for livestock and the earthen dams that are built to contain water for the farms. Populations in Africa are hard to determine, due to that secretive lifestyle, and there is some concern that these animals are being taken for the bush meat trade.
Aardvarks are somewhat difficult to breed in captivity. Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden we have enjoyed a successful program involving the propagation of Aardvarks, over the last several decades. “Padmae”, our young female that is now almost four years old was acquired for use as one of the animals that walk through the Park to meet our guests, up close and personal. The keeper staff noticed that she became very active and there was a distinct odor that she was producing, in April of 2012. The thought was that she was probably in estrus, meaning that she was probably ovulating and could produce a baby if she mated with a male. Padmae was moved to the Veldt to visit with our breeding male Aardvark and remained there for several months. The staff noted that the pair did breed during the last week of August and into September. On December 18, 2012 an ultrasound was performed on her and it was confirmed that she is pregnant. Based on the sonogram, below, and the recorded breeding dates, we are expecting a baby Aardvark between April 15 and May 15, 2013.
In preparation for the birth of a baby Aardvark, which has been described as looking like an alien creature, we are making modifications to the area in the Children’s Zoo Nursery. A closed circuit surveillance system is being installed, so that volunteers can monitor Padmae as her due date approaches. A whelping box is going into her stall soon, so that she has a secure place to give birth. The Nursery Staff is getting ready too. Since the females roam so much at night, sometimes they are too active in a captive situation for a newborn. The staff will be ready to pull the baby, during the nighttime hours, hand feed the youngster, and place the infant back with the female when she would be caring for it in the den during the day.
Stay tuned! We will keep you up to date on Padmae’s progress and our hope is that this first time mother will produce a healthy baby, this spring. Stop by the Nursery, at the Children’s Zoo, to visit our expectant mother and see how well she is doing for yourself.