An Anteater Named Teddy

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

anteater and cat

The anteater learned to know an orange when he saw one, for he relished orange juice greatly. The bushy tail covers the animal when asleep, but the natives of South America believe that it serves also to sweep ants off the ground in the woods. The tail is very flat.

Lilo Hess

The kind of terrain he was on seemed of no importance to him. He walked on hills, over rocks, and on logs without looking up. When he came to water, he seemed not to notice the change. He kept his nose to the ground so he would not miss any ants and walked along the banks of the pond or waded right into the water. If he wanted to go to the other side, he just swam across, and while half-in and half-out of the water, he would stop to pick up some ants at the very edge. He never shook the water out of his coarse hair. It was as if he didn't know the difference between water and land, except that there were no ants in the water. He could climb trees very well but seldom did.

The chimpanzee and the anteater never became close friends as I had hoped. The little ape never went really close to the anteater except when there was wire between them. Teddy never trusted the chimp and would either back away or get ready to strike. Her movements were too quick for him and she seemed to make him nervous and upset. She was very rough in her play, and when he was not looking she might quickly pull his tail. Though he loved to be petted and have his head scratched, he was sensitive about his tail. He never permitted me to touch it. Whenever I scratched his head, he would stand very still and close his eyes.

The little chimp consented to only one thing: she let Teddy pull her around in a little wagon. But she soon got impatient, since he stopped all the time to look for ants. When he sometimes turned to sniff her, she would jump away as fast as she could. He did not care if he was harnessed to the little wagon or not.

He was completely unconcerned about everything around him. He did take a mild interest in the lamb. Whenever their paths crossed, he would stop and lick it. He liked to lick things—hands, shoes, the chimp's feet (she only let him do this if he was in the cage). He licked the broom and the chairs and even the cat. He was very much interested in the kitchen. He might have smelled ants, for I had had an invasion of them when I first opened the house in the spring. But they soon departed, and I think that he hardly ever found any. However, he kept on looking.

There were no signs of great intelligence, but he was not stupid. I didn't try to teach him anything and don't know if it would be possible to do so, but he learned to fit himself into our household in a very short time. He knew my voice and responded to his name. He knew that when I changed the little chimp's diapers on the table next to his cage, he could lick her feet without her objecting. He had to climb on top of his sleeping box to do this, which was not easy for him since the box was smooth; but he invariably managed it. When he saw me fold a newspaper, he would get very excited, expecting to be fed, because a newspaper was always spread under his bowl of food. He also recognized his food dish. When I came in the morning to put his leash on, he would be as docile as a lamb. He would come toward me and stand very still so I could fasten it. But in the evening it was a different story. He knew I had come to take him away from his ants, and he would rebel as best he could. In the cage he would rear up, threatening me with his claws and squeezing himself into the farthest corner. When tied to a tree, he would give me a merry chase around the tree until his leash got tangled; then he would pretend to fight. He never really struck out at me though, and I would tuck him under my arm and carry him in. Eventually he learned that the fight accomplished nothing, and he gave up trying. But I always carried him in and out of his cage, since it would require up to twenty minutes to walk him about a hundred feet. Every other step he would stop to look and dig for ants. He was very strong, and I could not pull him against his will. He also learned to recognize an orange and would get very excited when he saw one. He got the juice of half an orange every other day after I found out how much he liked it. He also was fond of applesauce and grape juice and got those as a treat from time to time.

An anteater is not the most desirable pet for a home. Though Teddy appreciated a soft couch to some extent and learned to walk up and down stairs and drink from a cup at table, he never stopped looking for ants, and would dig for them in the pillows or rugs. Teddy was not housebroken, either, though I think he could have been trained to go to a box. He kept himself fairly clean by combing his fur with his long claws. The claws could be controlled like fingers, and he could grasp things tightly with them. He washed himself with his tongue, and his coat never felt sticky afterward. His tail received the most attention, probably because he could reach it best. The tongue was black but became pink at the base.

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