Here at Arkive, we’re really excited about our Friday night TV viewing this week! BBC2 will be airing Hotel Armadillo, narrated by Sir David Attenborough sixty years after he first introduced British TV viewers to an armadillo (see picture below!).
There are 20 known armadillo species, of which all but one is found in Latin America. The name ‘armadillo’ comes from a Spanish word meaning ‘little armoured one’ – a reference to the bony plates which, uniquely among mammals, cover the back, head, legs, and tail of species within this distinctive family. Hotel Armadillo focuses on the giant armadillo, a creature so few people have ever seen in the wild that some describe it as a ghost species.
The challenge in filming is not simply that this animal is rare, solitary, shy, and nocturnal, but it also spends three-quarters of its time hidden underground in six-metre-deep burrows dotted across a wetland as big as England – Brazil’s Pantanal.
Thanks to the commitment, patience and clever camera set-ups of a team led by Dr Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and a UK film crew, the long-held secrets of giant armadillo life are beginning to unfold. Some of these secrets have even surprised the experts!
The show sheds fresh light on how the giant armadillo, an ecosystem engineer, is crucial to the health of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, and the many other species that call it home. Among the many revelatory sequences is the first television footage of a giant armadillo newborn, images of what happens inside and around their burrows and unique evidence of just how many other Pantanal species check into the animal’s hideaways for food and lodgings.
During the 2 year making of the film, a total of 80 different guests/diners were recorded within the hideaways of armadillos – hence the name ‘Hotel Armadillo’! Just a few of these species include:
Azara’s agouti, a rodent nicknamed the ‘jungle gardener’ due to its constant digging for buried caches of nuts and seeds, which tills the earth and encourages new plant growth
Crab-eating fox, not a true fox and not fussy about only eating crabs
Giant anteater, a cousin of the giant armadillo
Ocelot, related to leopards and once hunted almost to extinction due to demand for its fur
Collared anteater, a mostly tree-dwelling anteater with a partially prehensile tail
Tayra, a metre-long relative of weasels
Another surprise inclusion in the documentary is aerial footage of the spectacular scenery found within the 140,000 km sq Pantanal ecoysystem. The aerial shots were feared lost at one point, after the drone which shot them dropped into extremely deep caiman, stingray and piranha-infested water. But the plucky crew eventually managed to retrieve it and found the footage intact despite the drone’s four-hour-long submersion!
“Viewers will never have seen giant armadillos filmed like this before. Rare, solitary, living mostly underground in very remote habitat and emerging only at night makes them extremely challenging to find, let alone film – so much so that even David Attenborough, our narrator, still yearns to see one in the wild despite embarking on the quest 60 years ago!” – Justin Purefoy, Hotel Armadillo’s producer-director-cameraman
At the voiceover recording, Sir David recalled to Maramedia, the production company who filmed Hotel Armadillo, his first encounters with the armadillo family.
“In the middle of the 1950s I went off to Paraguay… (where)… there are all kinds of armadillos – at least half a dozen different species. The little three-banded was a charming little thing – running away on its tiptoes and when you catch them you can pick them up like little oranges and put them in a bag. But what used to happen was that the armadillo would suddenly open up… (and)… start trotting and you would see the bag rolling across the landscape – a very entertaining sight. Not very responsible. It isn’t something that you ought to do these days, but years ago that was what zoos did.”
Hotel Armadillo will be aired in the UK at 9 pm on Friday 7th April 2017 on BBC2 as part of the BBC Natural World series, and shortly after on PBS the USA.
Discover more of Brazil’s ecosystems and species on Arkive
We interviewed Arnaud Desbiez for our Spotlight on Whitley Award winners blog in 2015, check it out here