Aardvark: A large burrowing nocturnal mammal of sub-Saharan Africa that has a long snout, extensible tongue, powerful claws, large ears, and heavy tail and feeds especially on termites and ants. –Merrian-Webster Online Dictionary
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
Most of us know aardvark as the first word in the dictionary. It’s also a really cool to know for word games like Scrabble.
But few people can tell you what an aardvark is, and even fewer have actually seen one.
I grew up in South Africa and know this word,(in Afrikaans aardvark literally means “earth pig”), but I don’t recall ever seeing an aardvark, certainly not in the wild. The reason is that it is solitary and nocturnal, and seldom seen.
So it’s exciting that the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo has opened a new exhibit this week featuring two aardvarks from Tanzania. Now millions of New York-area people can see animals that millions of Africans who live with aardvarks in their midst seldom glimpse.
“The nocturnal aardvarks live in a habitat that simulates nighttime with enough light for visitors to observe these unusual creatures when the animals are active,” the Bronx Zoo said in a caption accompanying the photos here.
“Our in-house team worked very hard to create an environment that is visually pleasing, comfortable for the animals, and that lets us continue our mission of conservation and of educating the public,”said Jim Breheny, the zoo’s director.
The aardvarks are a male and a female, and approximately two years old. The male weighs about 100 lbs, and the female is about 115 lbs. Females have a wider head than males and are generally lighter in color.
White-faced scops owl photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
The aardvarks are living with a breeding pair of white-faced scops owls in the zoo’s Carter Giraffe Building.
(from Bronx Zoo)
- Despite its porcine name (Afrikaans for earth pig), the aardvark is more closely related to an elephant than it is to a pig.
- To recreate their sub-Saharan diet of ants and termites, these aardvarks are fed moistened insectivore chow and meat slurry.
- Although the aardvark is a species classified as least vulnerable, its habitat is still subject to human encroachment, and the animal is sometimes hunted for its meat and for its claws and snout, considered good luck by some indigenous people.