The oldest anteater in U.S. captivity was humanely euthanized at the Phoenix Zoo after his long, sociable, prolific life, officials said.
The zoo said 28-year-old Ebenezer was euthanized July 12 after his health declined recently.
The zoo's carnivore manager Angela Comedy said Ebenezer moved to the zoo from San Antonio when he was just a little over a year old. He lived there the rest of his life. During his long stay, he was well-loved and cared for by multiple keepers.
"He was like a gentle soul, which everybody loved ... every keeper that worked with him, he was one of their favorite animals at the zoo," Comedy said.
Ebenezer was highly social and loved to approach people and sniff their hands.
"He was super curious," Comedy said. "His whole loving personality and characteristics just made him so special. And the way that he really interacted with his keepers and even the public ... he was just a good anteater."
Ebenezer leaves behind 12 children and a total of 118 descendants around the world. He surpassed the normal lifespan for these nocturnal creatures, which is generally between 24 and 26 years.
Comedy said that Ebenezer was suffering from age-related ailments when he died. Once animals start reaching the end of their life cycle, hard decisions are made.
"The decision to euthanize him didn't just come from just one person," she said. "It's a huge group decision. It involves the keepers, the management, the upper management, the veterinary staff ... We all get together and we all have input on what happens with these animals."
In Ebenezer's case, the combination of old age, increased sleeping and slower movements, among other factors, led to the zoo's decision.
Comedy said some of her favorite moments interacting with Ebenezer were when she would feed him. He would lose interest in the food and instead start poking up the sleeve of her shirt.
"I'm feeding him ... and he's almost done ... and then he'll start, 'Well, I'm tired with the avocado. I'm gonna start looking what's under your sleeve.' And then he'll put his little nose up under the sleeve, and then the tongue would come out, so it feels like you have bugs or something running up your arm! It's really cute; it's like anteater kisses," she said.
These animals, distinctive for their long snouts and tails, are typically found in Central and South America and can eat up to 40,000 bugs a day, according to Comedy. While not endangered, these creatures are still threatened, or vulnerable.
"They're such a crazy cool kind of an animal," Comedy said.