On a hot July Saturday, I left my docent shift with the polar bears and went by the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) exhibit. One of the three anteaters was lying completely still on the grass, just inside the wall and only a few feet from where the visitors pass by. She lay by a tree that was stretching its shade over both anteater and observers.
She was fast asleep. (I watched very closely to make sure she was breathing.) I had never seen an anteater in that posture: relaxed on her side in the soft grass, her tail at rest, eyes closed, long snout almost limp, huge tail at rest. I could see the bottoms of her plantigrade rear feet, with their padded toes and soles poking out from the furry body. The feet were smaller than I expected. They looked tender. I saw her left front foot and noticed the knobby fist (on which the animal walks) and one impressive claw (which sticks up out of the way unless the anteater is digging).
We know that anteaters have a keen sense of smell, but I had never looked INTO an anteater’s nose before. She has rubbery black nostrils. Her tiny black mouth was slightly open. I might have heard her snoring, if I had been closer.
How fortunate that she can lie down in the grass and sleep as innocently and completely as any human in his bed. She was oblivious of the people walking by, always talking, shouting, laughing, and generally acting like primates. Perhaps, like house cats, some zoo animals are soothed by the sounds of people all around them. After all, that’s the world they know.
Anteaters can deliver huge and damaging blows with those fell front claws, but this one looked soft and harmless in sleep. I wonder how long she lay there; I had to hurry on. It was cool and comfortable in the shade of the anteater’s tree, but quite hot in the noontime sun.
What I really wanted to do at that point was to dive into the salt-water pool with Talini, the five-year-old polar bear.
P.S. I saw the anteater again today. She was lying on the other side of the exhibit (I like to believe it was her) in much the same posture as last week but a bit more pulled in. I didn’t take a picture. The docent I spoke with this morning knows that anteater and her behavior, and when I mentioned seeing her asleep last week, the docent said, “And a while later, she got up and went into the pool and took a nice long bath.” I had just been reading that anteaters like to swim, using their snouts as snorkels!