By Janet Tappin Coelho in Brazil
A cute baby armadillo, that almost starved to death in the wild after it lost the use of its hind legs, has been given a new lease of life in the form a custom-made wheelchair by vets in Brazil.
The five months old creature, called Bolinha, has been kitted out with a pair of toy wheels attached to spokes which are strapped to its body with string and elastic bands. The makeshift device has been designed to support the tiny armoured possum’s disabled legs.
With its new cart, the little mammal is now able to shuffle around independently in the dirt and scavenge for food.
The paraplegic pup was found last December by a motorist on a highway in Espirito Santo, south Brazil, suffering from malnutrition and various diseases that appeared to have caused the paralysis.
It was handed into vets at the Institute of Research and Rehabilitation of Marine Animals (IPRAM) who discovered that the poor creature hadn’t been run over but due to the severity of its illness it was weak, thin and unlikely to survive much longer in the wild.
A video on May 14 shows the cute fellow snuffling around eagerly in the dirt as it digs with sharp claws and snouts for insects and grubs. Its hind legs hang behind it as drags itself forward with its front legs and the supporting wheels, either side of its body, stabilise its movements.
Veterinarian Luis Mayorga, said: “When the pup arrived, we found it really strange because the it was not injured, it hadn’t been run over but was seriously ill, anaemic and plagued with a number of diseases that we believe led to paralysis in its rear legs.
“We knew that if it didn’t receive the necessary care immediately it would die from malnutrition. So we put him on a health building course of food and medicines and each week we were excited to see that he gained a bit more weight and became stronger.”
Bolinha, which means small ball, also grew more inquisitive about its surroundings and it soon became clear the little creature had gained sufficient confidence to allow it to live as near a natural life as possible.
That’s when the vets decided to create the substitute mobile device to give the leathery armoured shell mammal the chance to get about on its own.
Mayorga said: “It’s clear that Bolinha still doesn’t move well and he can’t get into the holes in the ground which is a common behaviour in the species, but the tool has given him the chance to survive in a safe environment.”
The animal, known in Brazil as a chicken-armadillo, because the meat tastes like chicken, is still undergoing treatment after four months in care.
“Whether he goes back to walking or not, it’s likely he will need to be in captivity for the rest of his life,” explained the vet.
“He has not had the time to learn what it’s like to be an armadillo and how to cope on his own in the wild. Without these skills he will die. We will continue to monitor his case to see if there are any improvements but we believe a safe environment is the best way forward for him.”
The pup will be sent to the Reintroduction Centre for Wild Animals (Cereias) in Aracruz and will go through the process of re-adaptation.
Vets at Cereias he will teach Bolinha how to hunt for food, what type of nourishment to eat and learn from other armadillos, also in captivity, how to survive in the controlled natural surroundings.
However, while the armadillo looks cute and adorable, Mayorga revealed that in Brazil the species is targeted by poachers for their meat.
The expert warned that the animal carries a bacterium that causes leprosy and whoever eats the flesh of the armadillo is at risk of catching the debilitating disease.