I’ve always found it odd that athletic teams at the Irvine campus of the University of California go by the nickname “Anteaters.” It’s even stranger than the fact the teams at the University’s Santa Barbara campus go by the nickname “Gauchos,” even though colonial California’s horsemen went by the Mexican term vaquero (“buckaroo” is a likely corruption of the Spanish original).
Still, maybe the usage of anteaters isn’t so inappropriate for a potentially dangerous competitor - as two Brazilian hunters recently learned but cannot regret at this point. That’s because the hunters became the hunted or, at least, their presumptive prey turned the tables on them. One was a farmer who approached the animal with a knife but didn’t reckon on the beast’s long sharp foreclaws, which caused “deep puncture wounds in his thighs and upper arms.” The man bled to death.
There is no evidence that giant anteaters, which range from Honduras into northernmost Argentina, are aggressive toward humans, but will defend themselves, even against jaguars. They have poor eyesight, though, and may strike out accidentally (or not) against humans. If you’re fortunate enough to see one in the wild, keep your distance.
In captivity, they can also be dangerous - in 2007, a zookeeper in Buenos Aires Province also died from an anteater attack. At Rincón del Socorro, in Argentina’s Esteros del Iberá wetlands where Douglas Tompkins’s conservation initiative is reintroducing this endangered species to the region, there’s a large wired enclosure for an adult male anteater that killed its owner – yes, someone was keeping it as a pet – in the city of Santiago del Estero.
I actually have some first-hand knowledge of this latter case, which concerned a gentle beast (pictured above) that licked my hand through the fence with the long slender tongue it uses to consume the contents of large antmounds. All the same, lacking fear of humans, it’s literally capable of killing someone with affection. For that reason, they can’t risk letting it loose in the wild, but it’s also a good cautionary tale against keeping wild animals as pets.
South America Talk Radio
And now for something completely different: My recent appearance on Montreal's "Armchair Traveler" radio show is now available for streaming at http://tinyurl.com/l6mjxzk (in English, fortunately, not my desperation language of French).