Hope for Rehabilitation

With a new school year right around the corner, Irvine and Orange County alike welcome all types of new anteaters into their new community. In early April of this year, the Santa Ana Zoo welcomed their first healthy baby anteater. Born at just under five pounds the baby is growing rapidly, gaining about five additional pounds a month.

Instantly attached to her mother, the baby anteater has spent the past few months riding on her back and nursing herself to full strength. Although she’s already getting a little too big for mom to carry, the zoo’s new baby anteater will continue to grow at this pace for another year or so before moving onto bigger and better things, like her fellow UC Irvine alumni.

Since the acquisition of mother Heesoo and father Peter the Anteater on April Fool’s Day 2009, the birth of this little anteater has been much anticipated. Her birth not only marks the first baby anteater born at the Santa Ana Zoo, it also grants hope to the animal rehabilitation movement nationwide. More often than not, endangered species fail to reproduce in captivity, raising concerns about extinction. Although the baby anteater remains nameless, Santa Ana Zoo Director and UCI biological sciences alumnus Kent Yamaguchi was very open to the name “Zotty” in dedication to UC Irvine’s legacy.

“We don’t have an official name yet, however, we have given the opportunity for people to purchase the naming rights for $5,000,” said Yamaguchi.

The challenge in obtaining wild anteaters made it that much more exciting for the Santa Ana Zoo to receive the pair. Moreover, the birth of their offspring has been celebrated as an opportunity to invigorate the gene pool and has garnered the interest of many zoos which hope to procure the baby once she is full-grown.

“When we went to open this exhibit a couple of years ago, because there are only about 100 anteaters in captivity in the US, everyone said there are none in the wild, but there are a pair in Guyana,” he said.

An incredible rarity in the U.S., the baby anteater will not only strengthen the genetic lines and introduce genetic variance to the captive population, but will also hopefully be the first of many offspring to come since the Santa Ana Zoo plans to have a birth about once every year. Future prospects for the new anteater’s location are unclear. Nevertheless, Mr. Yamaguchi emphasized the range of possibilities.

“Our baby’s genes are very much wanted by everyone because she has brand new blood that will be introduced into the gene pool,” he said.

The Santa Ana Zoo will be collaborating with other zoos in conjunction with federal departments, which keep track of lineages in captivity, to ensure that she will be placed in the location where she is most needed for breeding purposes to preserve the species.

Because of his love for teaching, Yamaguchi became involved with the Santa Ana Zoo as a day camp instructor and naturalist when he was still a student at UC Irvine. According to Yamaguchi, however, the huge prospect of becoming the zoo’s director never crossed his mind.

“I never in all my life, I never imagined myself being a zoo director,” said Yamaguchi. He highlighted the importance of recognizing opportunity, advising his fellow UCI students to “always keep your eyes open and get to know people.”

Being only a few miles away from campus, the Santa Ana Zoo provides UC Irvine with many opportunities. The zoo is always looking for volunteers, especially in education programs, and because of its newest exhibit of anteaters, it is the closest location for students to come and experience what Peter the Anteater really is like. The Santa Ana Zoo has become a hot spot for UCI alumni and students alike.