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Bigwig is a systems administrator at a public university
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December 18, 2003

Adventures In Journalism: The Mammals of Scale

Hurrah! According to the Agence France-Presse, a zoo in Switzerland has managed to successfully breed the rare and endangered nine-banded armadillo!

A zoo in Switzerland said it has become the second in Europe to breed armadillos, following the birth of three of the sloth-like, shelled mammals from South America.

"I am very excited as we have been keeping armadillos for nine years," said Caspar Bijleveld van Lexmond, head of Papiliorama, the nature reserve in the western Swiss town of Chietres, about the births, which occurred in mid-October.

"It is a rare event for them to breed in captivity," he told AFP.
...
On October 16, a nine-banded armadillo called Sanata gave birth to six babies in the Nocturama, a section of the zoo which houses nocturnal creatures from central and southern America.
...
The creatures, who are closely related to sloths and anteaters eat anything from plants to animal carcasses and cost about 15 Swiss francs (10 euros, 12 dollars) per week to keep in captivity, said van Lexmond.

Nocturama, which now has five armadillos, has bred even rarer animals in the past, including ocelots, two-toed sloths and night monkeys.

My excitement over this stunning achievement is tempered by the existence of a few minor inaccuracies in the body of the story. It's nothing really, just a few minor quibbles on my part, not anything that should sully the shining journalistic reputation of the AFP

Ok, maybe they should. This is the same news service that identified a Slow Loris as a Monkey, after all.

For starters, that's a pangolin in accompanying photo, not a nine-banded armadillo. It's an even worse error that the Slow Loris/Monkey fiasco. Monkeys and Lorises are at least members of the same mammalian order, the Primata, or Primates. Pangolins and Armadillos are in entirely separate orders, the Pholidota and Xenarthra. They were in separate families under the old Edentata order, but that classification scheme was abandoned years ago. Even using the old classification scheme, calling a pangolin an armadillo is the Linnaean equivalent of confusing a leopard with a walrus.

Secondly, nine banded armadillos are neither rare or endangered. Nor are they "sloth-like." Sloths are at least in the same mammalian order, but are slow-moving fur-covered tree dwellers that give birth to one offspring, as opposed to fast, armor-plated diggers that give birth to identical quadruplets.* Sloths are to armadillos as we are to naked mole rats.**

Some armadillos are rare and endangered, but the nine-banded armadillo is not one of them. It is not only widespread, but considered a threat to real endangered animals, such as sea turtles. The nine-banded armadillo is a commonly found species, as are the two-toed sloths and Night Monkeys mentioned above, despite their designation by AFP as "even rarer animals."

I suspect that, given the picture above, a species of pangolin has been bred in captivity for the first time. Where the AFP reporter got it in his head that it was a particular species of armadillo, I have no idea. Needless to say, there are no pangolins in South America, so he got the continent wrong as well.

I've written the zookeeper quoted in the article above, it will be interesting to see what he thinks of it.

*That's always four offspring, mind you, not six. Whatever it was that gave birth to six offspring at Papiliorama, it was almost certainly not a nine-banded armadillo.

**admittedly, the comparison becomes more apt when applied to the journalists at AFP as opposed to humanity as a whole.

photo via Yahoo, who should be ashamed of being associated with it.

Posted by Bigwig at December 18, 2003 01:12 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

I guess you're in the middle of one of those Tomcat/Cocoon log moves - chained to your desk with nothing else to do? Thanks for keeping the world safe from Journalistic "i-will-just-make-this-shit-up-because- nobody-will-know-the-difference"ness.

Posted by: MojoMark at December 18, 2003 02:01 PM

Oddly enough, the machine I moved those logs on is one I'm looking at. Disk usage is creeping up again, but there are no longer any obvious candidates as to the cause.

Other than that, I'm re-installing our online courseware on a test machine, which is a slow process.

But yes, It's kinda slow. Next to last day of exams.

Posted by: Bigwig at December 18, 2003 02:13 PM

Fun with facts....I just love when someone who has no clue is writing a story.

Posted by: Da Goddess at December 18, 2003 11:44 PM

Well I thot my zoo degree had failed me. I saw the picture: "Ah. A pangolin." But no. I am an idiot! I'm glad I kept reading. And I personally believe that you WOULD make shit up, contrary to what commenter "mojo" has expressed. But I could be wrong about that, too.

Posted by: fredf at December 30, 2003 03:01 PM