by Gabriella Kövi, zookeeper, Miskolc Zoo, Hungary
The question is simple, the implementation is not so much. Let's see why! Begin with taking two armadillos… like in a recipe; and this is also true, however it is not sufficient to obtain a couple of armadillos, since many factors can affect the reproduction of a species.
Large hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus villosus) occur everywhere in drier areas of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina from forests to farms and agricultural areas. Their burrows are usually located in bushy areas. They are nocturnal animals. Omnivorous, they consume insects, invertebrates, small vertebrates as well as plants. Their wide spread is due to their ability to survive on a low water diet, so they are more adaptable to arid environments than other armadillo species. Mating begins in September; and after 60-75 days of pregnancy usually two offspring are born. While the adults have hard and flattened carapaces, the infants still have pink, soft skin and their eyes open only at about 3-4 weeks of age. Growing rapidly, infants leave the nest after one month and start to consume solid food. Weaning takes place about 50-60 days after birth, sexual maturity is reached at 9 months.
Considering all these, we could conclude that the breeding of armadillos is really simple. They get some water, eat almost anything and there are no predators. However, it is not always possible in zoos to create an environment that promotes successful reproduction. First of all, we have to measure whether the enclosure is suitable. If we have adequate space, it is important to keep in mind that they live in burrows – under the surface – and the enclosure should also be suitable for digging so the animals can make natural nests for themselves. It is necessary to lay wire mesh about 50 cm (~1.6 ft) under the soil of the enclosure to prevent an escape. It is important to provide stones and logs for them so they can sharpen their strong claws. In addition, it is necessary to create an artificial nest which should be comfortable for both the mom and the new-born twins. It is best if the nest is placed in a dry inner place with temperate climate because births usually occur in the autumn when the weather is cool and humid. A wide variety of food should be offered for them in the zoo; they usually eat insects, chicken meat, eggs, curd, fruits, vegetables and dog food. Varied food can provide them with all the necessary nutrients. The pregnant female needs to consume more food because of the embryos. If all these conditions are met, the animals can arrive at the zoo.
First an adult male large hairy armadillo – named Dömper (which means dumper in Hungarian) – arrived at Miskolc Zoo, Hungary from Olomouc Zoo, Czech Republic. He lived alone for about one year, and then a female called Sophie came from Erfurt Zoo, Germany. The first mating season promised to be exciting because we knew that wild armadillos live lonely lives. It was not easy in the first year; they got injuries during the intense, sometimes aggressive chases. They had to be separated in some cases and serious supervision was necessary. We didn’t know what to expect. However, habituation was finally successful; and after a while Sophie’s first offspring, a female was born. Because of the armadillos’ solitary nature, we decided to separate the parents from each other, especially since the male showed some aggression against the female before the day of birth.
The parents were reunited at the beginning of the spring after the offspring had been removed from Sophie. They took some injuries at that time too, but after one or two days they lived together without any problem. Next autumn we welcomed twins in the nest – two males were born. By 2014 we became experienced and so did the armadillo parents too, so, aside from some chasing, there was no aggression between them. Sophie gave birth to twins in August, a male and a female were born this time. We hope that we can rejoice at another twin birth in 2015 again.