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Armadillo Enrichment

Hello, my name is Rachael and I am a member of the Ambassador Animals Team here at Zoo Atlanta. The Ambassador Animal Department provides a unique opportunity for our animals to educate the public up close. Today I want to talk to you about some of my favorite ambassadors we have at the zoo – armadillos! You may have seen them this summer in their outdoor habitats or if you have been to an Amy’s Tree presentation.

The species that we are most familiar with here in Georgia is the nine-banded armadillo. The Zoo is home to two species of armadillo that live at Wieland Wildlife Home – southern three-banded armadillo and screaming hairy armadillo. Both these species are from South America and live in grasslands and scrublands. Armadillos are intelligent animals that are incredibly curious. Because of this, we put a lot of work into enrichment and training to make sure our armadillos are mentally stimulated.  

There are two resident three-banded armadillos at Wieland Wildlife Home. You have most likely seen Finnegan out meeting guests on Zoo grounds. He is 8 years old, so he is still young for an armadillo since they can live up to about 15 or 16. Violetta is a retired ambassador and spends her days in a window box with lots of space to dig and a lovely view of all the squirrels and birds. At 24, Violetta has far outlived the age range for armadillos. The most common enrichment that Finnegan and Violetta receive are food puzzles. They might get fun feeders (just like your dog at home!), food bowls covered in newspaper so they must dig, multiple food bowls, and any combination of enrichment.  

Our screaming hairy armadillo is Harriet. She is 6 years old and full of energy. You can often see her exploring and sniffing around her outdoor habitat. Harriet is incredibly engaged when it comes to enrichment. Keepers are always trying to find new ways to challenge her since she tends to be very quick with food puzzles. Harriet enjoys training sessions and has a good number of behaviors in her repertoire. She knows how to target (touch nose to a target pole), station (stand still on a station), A to B, and voluntarily kennel. She starred in our summer detective show where she was trained to do what we call an A to B across stage. This means she was trained to run from one side of the stage to the other after being cued from her initial spot. Training allows Harriet to learn new things and really use her brain.    

Since armadillos are insectivores, which means that they eat bugs, they specialize in digging. You may notice they have a very large front claw that helps them dig out all those yummy bugs.  With their home spaces, we always make sure they have enough substrate so that they can dig and burrow. We also give them boxes stuffed with newspaper and lots of hides. Finnegan and Harriet are both currently living in their outdoor areas and can often be seen digging in the sand. You can usually spot Finnegan burrowed under a tree stump in his home. When they are inside, we may offer them different substrates or dig boxes to allow them to dig even more.  

Armadillos aren’t usually our first thought when it comes to intelligence and curiosity. Our three armadillos continue to show me how clever they are and that they are always excited to explore new things. They continue to teach me new and exciting things every day and as keepers we always try to do the same for them.  

Rachael R.
Keeper I, Ambassador Animals

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