Taipei Zoo officials were overjoyed yesterday after a mother anteater that had escaped more than three months ago was found on Sunday by two hikers near a mountain trail in New Taipei City’s Shenkeng District (深坑).
The mother anteater, called “Hsiao Hung” (小紅, “little red”), arrived in Taiwan in August 2018 and was housed in the zoo’s Tropical Rainforest section. She gave birth to a pup in May.
Zoo spokesman Eric Tsao (曹先紹) said that when an electronic scan identified that it was indeed Hsiao Hung, some of the staff were teary and overcome with emotions, as they were afraid she would not have been able to survive in the wild.
Photo courtesy of Taipei Zoo
Tsao joked that the zoo might have to change her name to “Rambo,” as she was found about 3km to 4km from the zoo in a forest with ravines, gullies and steep slopes, but still managed to find food and avoid being attacked by feral dogs and other predators.
After escaping from her enclosure on Sept. 1, the zoo had mounted searches for Hsiao Hung, including setting cage traps with food to lure her back, and posting notices and pictures on social media in a public appeal for help to find her.
After three months with no news of Hsiao Hung, zoo staffers thought there was little chance she would have survived.
When asked about Hsiao Hung during a question-and-answer session at the Taipei City Council last week to discuss the zoo’s budget, Tsao said: “This species of anteater is not indigenous to Taiwan, and the weather is turning cold. She needs a place with warm temperatures. She might also be exposed to attacks by wild predators, so we believe she might not be able to survive in the wild.”
However, on Sunday afternoon, two hikers, surnamed Chiang (江) and Hsu (許), saw a strange animal and took photographs of it, which were passed on to the zoo.
Officials immediately gathered a rescue team of 36, including zoo staff, animal rescue specialists and local residents familiar with the mountain trails.
After searching for more than an hour, they found Hsiao Hung sleeping inside the hollow of a tree.
The mother anteater was in pretty good shape, although she had scratches and other minor wounds, and showed signs of dehydration and malnutrition, having lost about 1kg since September, Tsao said.
Her wounds are being treated, and she is being fed her favorite food to hasten her recovery, he said.
It would take at least a month of recuperation and a health assessment before the public can see her again at the zoo, Tsao added.
The zoo has had other animals that had escaped in the past, mostly Formosan serows, gibbons and chimpanzees, he said.
Gibbons and chimpanzees have sometimes escaped by swinging from overgrown trees, but the simians are social animals and family-oriented, so they soon climb back to join their group, he said.
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