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Defending giant anteater kills man

Paramaribo – Green Heritage Fund Suriname (GHFS) was saddened to hear about the unfortunate incident in which a man is alleged to have been killed by a giant anteater on Saturday afternoon. While GHFS extends its sincere condolences to the family of the deceased man, it also wishes to state that Giant anteaters do not attack people without provocation. Giant anteaters are toothless mammals, that use their claws to harvest their food found in termite mounds, and other rotting forest debris. In rare cases giant anteaters will use these claws to defend themselves. Only two other cases are known globally in which giant anteaters have killed humans.

Chase to kill giant anteater

According to a Police Statement a man was killed by a giant anteater in Suriname on Saturday. The police preliminary investigation revealed that the victim named Ramesh Tamesser (43 years) saw from his car a giant anteater cross the road while driving over the Henri Fernandesweg, in North-West Paramaribo, with three colleagues. The man stopped the car, took a cutlass and chased after the animal apparently with the intention of killing it. The anteater continued its course running into a swampy area. When the three colleagues decided to follow the man they found him seriously injured and in the immediate vicinity of the animal. The animal appeared to be dead, but when the men arrived, the animal got up and ran off into the wetland. The man had injuries in his neck area, arms and shoulders. His colleagues immediately brought Tamesser to the emergency room by car, where the attending physicians established his death.

Police Investigation

The neighbourhood investigation that was carried out by the police as part of the technical investigation at the scene after the incident brought to light that the anteater had been seen in the area for some time. People living in the neighborhood estimated the animal to be two meters, and it is suspected to have killed two calves in the past period. The case is still under investigation by the Police at Derde Rijweg (Kwatta).

Giant anteaters are insectivores

“I have never heard of an anteater proactively and aggressively attacking a person or an animal,” according to a statement of Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group. “I am only aware of two other deadly attacks of giant anteaters. One was a poacher whose dogs attacked a giant anteater, and the animal defended itself with its claws, eventually inflicting deadly wounds to the poacher. The other one was an accident at an Argentinean zoo, where the animal was cornered and feeling threatened by a caretaker who did not follow the basic safety protocols. In both cases, as well as in the one that just occurred in Suriname, the giant anteaters felt threatened and tried to defend their life, which is something you would expect from any wild animal (and even domestic animals).”

Mariella Superina further adds that: “Giant anteaters are not top predators but insectivores, so it would make absolutely no sense for them to kill a calf – they do not feed on mammals. They are adapted to ingesting ants and termites, and therefore the size of their mouth opening, as well as the absence of any teeth (among other specific anatomical and physiological adaptations), would make it impossible for them to feed on a dead calf.”

Flávia Miranda, Anteater Specialist, and Deputy Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group, confirms the statement by Superina. She says its is impossible that a giant anteater attacks cattle. “I work over 10 years in an area that has anteaters and cattle living together.” Flávia Miranda also states that for as far as the attack of the man by the giant anteater is concerned, this could have actually occurred if the man tried to grab the animal by the tail. “Only then the animal would have access to the arm, shoulder and neck.”

Giant anteaters are protected animals

In Suriname giant anteaters are protected species under the 1954 Game Law. Many mammals and especially these very special ones, like anteaters and sloths are protected by law. This means that people are not allowed to hunt or kill them, or to harass them in any other manner. These animals can also not be kept as pets. In Suriname 3 species of anteaters can be found, including the giant anteater. Green Heritage Fund Suriname is involved in the shelter, care, rehabilitation and release of these animals in areas in which they can live freely without encroachment by humans. This means that orphaned animals and animals in need are temporarily sheltered and adopted. The mission of the GHFS in respect of anteaters, sloths and armadillos is to conserve and protect these animals and their habitat in Suriname by means of shelter, rehabilitation, release, education and information.

[from Green Heritage Fund Suriname, 10 March 2014]

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