With their long snouts, bushy tails, and beautifully patterned coats, giant anteaters are cute—in a weird sort of way. And their babies ride around on their moms' backs for their first year, which is adorable. But if you’re ever tempted to try and snuggle one or throw a leash on it and take it for a stroll, though, a recent case study in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine shows that getting in an anteater’s face is a very bad idea.
In their report, researchers from Brazil document the case of a giant anteater that attacked and killed a human hunter in self-defense. The man, a 47-year-old Brazilian, was hunting with his two sons in the forest when their dogs cornered an adult anteater, which reared up on its hind legs in a defensive position sometimes known as “an anteater’s hug” (here’s a different species, the collared anteater, in a similar stance). While the men were armed with rifles, they didn’t want to shoot their dogs by accident, so the man drew his knife and approached the anteater.
When he got close, the animal lashed out at him with its four-inch claws, which the animals normally use to dig up anthills and termite nests, but which can also be devastating weapons. The anteater scratched and bruised the man’s neck and right leg, and punctured his left arm twice and his left leg eight times. While his sons managed to free him and shoot the anteater, the animal's claws had damaged the man's femoral artery, and he bled out and died at the scene.
“The tragic case described here was first and foremost an accident,” the researchers say. Giant anteaters prefer to avoid humans or retreat from them, but that’s not always an option because of their poor vision and hearing. Defensive attacks are rare, and happen only when someone corners the animals or makes them feel trapped. The consequences of doing that are plain in this incident, which, the researchers say, “should serve as a warning to respect the boundaries between wildlife and humans, especially when they co-inhabit a given area.”