Winner avatar
2015 Whitley Award
Arnaud Desbiez Brazil Terrestrial
Conservation of giant armadillos in the Cerrado, Brazil

Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Garden House School Parents’ Association

A conservation ambassador

In 2010 Arnaud Desbiez set up the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in Brazil’s Pantanal – the largest wetland in the world. This was the first long-term study of giant armadillos. At the time, little was known about this enigmatic species and few landowners even knew of its existence.

Ecosystem engineers

Initial research uncovered some surprising results. Radio-tracking giant armadillos has enabled Arnaud to map habitat use, whilst camera traps have revealed crucial information about parental care, and show armadillo burrows providing refuge for over 25 species, demonstrating their role as an ‘ecosystem engineer’. A national outreach campaign was launched reaching 65,000 people directly, and the giant armadillo was subsequently selected by State authorities as an indicator species for the creation of protected areas in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Susceptible to extinction

The project is now expanding to the Cerrado, a tropical scrubland that has disappeared by more than 50% in the last 35 years. Compared to the pristine Pantanal, in the Cerrado the giant armadillo faces the threat of habitat loss, agricultural pesticides, fire, hunting and busy roads. The issues are more pressing considering the naturally low densities at which giant armadillos occur, making them more susceptible to local extinction.

Arnaud’s project will:

  • Collect data to support the creation of a network of protected areas and tackle threats to the species’ survival in partnership with local stakeholders.
  • Promote giant armadillos as a conservation flagship by conducting educational outreach among landowners, school children, and the public.
  • Build capacity to conserve this rare species by providing Brazilian biologists and vets with hands-on training.

Why it matters:

  • Only 2.2% of the Cerrado is under legal protection.
  • Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals and giant armadillos are often considered a living fossil.
  • The provision of hands-on experience in conservation is vital for the growth of the profession in Brazil.

“More and more people are now aware of the species’ existence and the important role they play as ecosystem engineers.”