Aardvarks Debut at New York’s Bronx Zoo

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.

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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.


Aardvark Facts

(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.

Changing Planet

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn