Hotel Armadillo

Tracking Down the Elusive Builder of Burrows

Most of us in the southern and southeastern United States are familiar with the armadillo. While the smaller, nine-banded armadillo is thriving and expanding across much of the country, its lesser-known relative, the giant armadillo, is facing threats to survival in its native habitat across South America. The Oklahoma City Zoo is proud to support conservation biologist Dr. Arnaud Desbiez and the Giant Armadillo Conservation Program to help study and save this imperiled species in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Desbiez’s groundbreaking work will be featured on PBS’s Nature program “Hotel Armadillo” that premieres Wednesday, April 19, at 7 p.m. CST on PBS (check your local listings at and live streams at  PBS Nature’s “Hotel Armadillo” program follows Desbiez and his team in the Pantanal as they track down this ancient mammal and discover why it is so vital to the area's biodiversity.

The filmmakers accompany Desbiez and his team as they return to check whether the newly developed camera trap by a burrow has captured any footage of its female occupant whom they’ve named Tracy, after the first Giant armadillo researcher Tracy Carter, an Oklahoma State University professor and Zoo collaborator. The cameras begin recording when triggered by the tiniest of movements whether it is day or night. The rare footage shows a cautious Tracy emerging from her home using her acute sense of smell and hearing to examine her surroundings before heading off to spend the night feeding on termites. The team is jubilant with these results and then begin to notice something unexpected. For a sneak peak of the program, visit

First appearing some 50 million years ago, the Giant armadillo is a rare, nocturnal, solitary and elusive creature, and can weigh up to 120 pounds! It also digs a new underground burrow, up to 20 feet deep, every other night where it spends 75 percent of its life. So researchers studying these animals spend time locating their burrows, hoping to spot and track the giant armadillos. Many other species have been discovered using the giant armadillo’s burrows, so protecting the armadillo protects an entire ecosystem!

Before this project was initiated in 2010, very little was known about the species and very few people ever saw one in the wild.  Now with the use of GPS radio collars and camera traps, project researchers, like Desbiez, have learned an incredible amount of information about the giant armadillos and how they live. This information is now being used by the government of Brazil to establish conservation areas, which will help protect the species from extinction. One of the most exciting outcomes from the project is that the giant armadillo was named as a flagship species for habitat conservation in the Pantanal, which sprawls over an estimated 54,000 to 75,000 square miles.

Support for the Giant Armadillo Conservation Program has been raised through the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation program. Every penny raised supports critical conservation programs across the globe.  By visiting the Zoo and “rounding up” to the nearest dollar amount when you make a purchase at the Zoo, YOU can be a conservation hero!

 To learn more about the Giant Armadillo project and to help save the giant armadillo, visit

--Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, Zoo director of veterinary services

 About Nature:

Nature pioneered a television genre that is now widely emulated in the broadcast industry.  Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.  The series has been consistently among the most-watched primetime series on public television. is the award-winning web companion to Nature, featuring streaming episodes, filmmaker interviews, teacher’s guides and more.

Photo credits:

Giant armadillo. Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Arnaud Desbiez/©The Giant Armadillo Project

Biologists Arnaud Desbiez and Gabriel Massocato and vet Danilo Kluyber check the general health of a Giant armadillo and collect samples. Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Fergus Gill/©Maramedia Ltd.

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