Wild Animal Conservation Institute (ICAS)
Protecting Brazil’s giants
PROJECTS: Giant Armadillo Conservation Project, Anteaters &Highways and Armadillos & Honey
RZSS has been working with ICAS founder, Dr Arnaud Desbiez, and his team for over a decade to safeguard endangered giant armadillos and giant anteaters and their threatened habitat. Initially a lone pioneer, Arnaud now employs 20 people and works across three different Brazilian biomes: the Pantanal, Cerrado and Atlantic Forest. With each discovery made by this dedicated team, we are better equipped to protect these elusive species from extinction.
The Giant Armadillo Conservation Project is the first long-term ecological study of giant armadillos
This mysterious giant was relatively unknown to science until Dr Arnaud Desbiez and his team began their research. For over a decade they have investigated the ecology and biology of the species using radio transmitters, camera traps, burrow surveys, resource monitoring, mapping and interviews with local people. The species is now an indicator for the creation of protected areas in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Giant armadillos are known as ecosystem engineers because their burrows are used by many other species for shelter from extreme temperatures and to forage for food. Over 70 species have been documented to use giant armadillo burrows. Despite measuring around 1.5 m in length, giant armadillos mainly eat termites and their huge foreclaws allow them to rip into termite mounds.
Giant armadillos will also predate bee larvae when given the chance. Honey production is an important industry in the Cerrado area of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of ICAS’ study sites, and giant armadillos can destroy hives, causing conflict with farmers and destroying local livelihoods. To help mitigate this human wildlife conflict, Arnaud and his team have established a certification scheme called Armadillos and Honey. The scheme offers methods for beekeepers on armadillo-proofing their hives and rewards them for protecting the animals they share a habitat with through a certification scheme. Giant Armadillo friendly honey is now reaching a higher price on markets
Anteaters and Highways addresses the effect of expanding road networks and advocates for mitigation measures to make roads safer for both people and wildlife.
More than half of the scrub forest and grassland habitat in the Brazilian Cerrado has been lost to agriculture over the past 35 years. The remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented by roads and highways and giant anteaters are among the animals most frequently killed in wildlife vehicle collisions.
Anteaters & Highways aims to quantify the impact of roads on giant anteater populations and evaluate potential knock-on effects on the species’ behaviour, population structure and health. Research results are already providing insights into anteater movement patterns and whether roads are barriers to gene flow as well as informing road management strategies in Brazil and benefitting numerous other species. The programme has now moved into a new phase, working alongside road managers in local government and road users to protect giant anteaters and help them move around safely. The ultimate goal of the project is to make roads safe for both people and animals.
Follow the journey
2010 – Core funded by RZSS, Dr Arnaud Desbiez began his pioneering research into giant armadillos in Brazil’s Pantanal, the largest wetland in the world.
2012 – Arnaud’s team began to grow. Using the RZSS funding for his own role as a template, Arnaud was able to attract support from other zoos and organisations and build a team, several of whom are supported through this ‘sponsorship’ model
2015 – The project expanded out from the Pantanal to include the Cerrado, a rapidly disappearing tropical scrubland
2015 - Arnaud received his first prestigious Whitley Award in recognition of his work on giant armadillo conservation and his contribution to grassroots conservation in the Pantanal and beyond
2017 - Anteaters & Highways, originally a four-year project, began
2015 – As the Giant Armadillo Conservation and Anteaters and Highways projects grew, Arnaud established his own non-profit Institute for the Conservation of Wild Animals (ICAS)
2020 - Arnaud won a second round of funding from the Whitley Award, which helped to establish the Armadillos and Honey certification scheme and establish a project site in the Atlantic Forest where giant armadillos are on the brink of extinction
2020 – In response to devastating fires in the Pantanal, Arnaud and his team rallied support to assemble community fire-fighting squads, protecting both local livelihoods and threatened wildlife and habitats