An Anteater Named Teddy

Even as a pet, his single interest was in ants, and he never quite got used to a tame chimpanzee.

child photographing anteater

Photography under difficulties: Christine, the chimpanzee, didn't help the author take the anteater's portrait as he looked cautiously out of the box in which he arrived from Boston.

Lilo Hess

In March, 1953, when I visited the Sportsman's Show in New York City, I had to wait in a queue for my turn to see into a cage labeled “Anteater, Brazil.” I was about to go away without seeing him. After all, one anteater looks much like another, I said, but the smallness of the cage puzzled me. I couldn't imagine how an anteater could fit into such tight quarters.

When I finally got near the animal, I was not sorry I had waited. It was the first time I had seen a baby anteater. He was four months old and about three feet long from the tip of his nose to the end of his bushy tail. He was tame, and the owner, Mr. C. Chase of the Chase Wild Animal Farm, took him out for me to hold.

He weighed about eleven or twelve pounds, and I recalled that my fifteen-months-old chimpanzee was a little heavier. Visions of an anteater playing with a baby chimp rose before me. The sale was completed twenty minutes later.

The anteater was to stay at the animal farm, near Boston, until the first of May so that I could take him directly out to the country instead of keeping him in the New York apartment. He was to be shipped to me in New York by air.

I picked him up at La Guardia Airport and went straight out to Pennsylvania. All the way, I could hardly contain my desire to see him. My main concern was whether he had grown too big to be handled. The crate was small enough, but all I could see through the cracks was a bristly ball of fur. I had arranged an inside cage for him on my porch and a large pen for him outdoors. I hoped it would be warm enough for him to spend the day outside, but at night I intended to bring him in, until the weather was warmer and more settled.

When the crate was opened, the anteater walked out very slowly and cautiously. I was happy to see that he had not grown too much. The little chimp watched everything with fascination and then jumped right into the cage, eager to pet the new toy. But this nice little teddy bear hit back. The chimp ducked just in time. I was astonished at how quickly the anteater could strike with his huge claws.

In the months that I had waited to get him, I had gathered as much information about anteaters as I could. It was disappointing how little there was. All the writers gave a description of this "fossil animal" and its habitat—the damp forests of tropical America. They told briefly of its small toothless mouth and long tongue. About half the references claimed that the tongue was sticky; the other half stated the opposite. After touching the anteater's tongue many times, it seems to me that the tongue itself is not sticky but the saliva is. He would run his tongue with great speed back and forth over my hand, and there was an adhesive coating on it afterward.

In the accounts there was also mention of the coarse hair and the big claws. The latter could be dangerous if the animal were in a rage. They curve backward and are exceedingly efficient tools for digging in the termite hills of their South American homeland. Most writers stated that anteaters live exclusively on termites, but some claimed that they also eat a certain kind of ant. All agreed that they wouldn't touch our local ants, but my anteater ate large quantities of them!

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