Rare giant armadillo photographed

Giant armadillo (c) A Desbiez The mysterious armoured mammal caught on camera

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A rare giant armadillo has been caught on camera by researchers in the wetlands of central Brazil.

Little is known about the mysterious mammals, which can reach 1.5m in length and weigh up to 50kg.

In the past, the species' nocturnal, solitary lifestyles have posed a considerable challenge for scientists wishing to study them.

Conservationists now hope to learn more about the vulnerable animals using automatic camera traps.

ARMADILLO FACTS

  • Little is known about giant armadillos but scientists have identified that their long claws are suitable for digging up termite mounds for food
  • Unlike their smaller relatives, these large animals are unable to fully roll into a protective ball and so burrow to escape predators
  • Their armour-like shell is made of 11 to 13 hinged bands of bony plates covered in scales

At up to twice the size of more familiar species, giant armadillos (Priodontes maximus) are known to live in undisturbed forest near to water sources in South America.

But the species have a patchy distribution and spend their days in underground burrows making confirmed sightings rare.

Researchers from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) spent 10 weeks intensively searching for the elusive mammals in a region of the Pantanal, one of the world's largest wetlands spanning Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Using cameras provided by Chester Zoo, the team were able to capture rare photographs of the animals.

"The cameras will offer critical pieces of information for the assessment of the status of giant armadillo populations in Brazil," said Dr Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist from RZSS who runs the Giant Armadillo Project.

Giant armadillo burrowing (c) A Desbiez Cameras captured burrowing behaviour

"They will help us to acquire a better understanding of the natural history of the species and perhaps understand the ecological reasons why giant armadillos are so rare."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the mammals as Vulnerable, with threats from hunting and habitat destruction causing population declines.

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