One species of healthy-sized anteaters live in the trees of Guatemala and Mexico

There are dozens of excellent companies producing animated films. There are thousands of capable animators. At the recent SIGGRAPH 2015 expo in Los Angeles there were probably a zillion students of 3D imaging and animation (three of us from FLAAR were there).

What sets FLAAR apart is our first-hand experience with the actual animals. Plus fifty years studying Mayan archaeology, ethnobistory,iconography, cosmology, mythology, and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Also we know the various eco-systems (in Guatemala, Mexico, etc) where each animal lives.

We are studying the animals in-person where possible, so we can better render them as characters with a personality. We recently spent time with a mother and baby tapir, with a peccary named Pancho, and with a jaguar cub named Namu (at the zoo, AutoSafari Chapin, Guatemala, Central America).

My first experience with an anteater, in-person

For five years I lived on the hill overlooking Lake Yaxha, El Peten, Guatemala. There was no paved highway and the last several miles had to be transited in a dugout canoe (no motor, just paddling a hollowed out tree). This was 1970-1975.

My first “house” was built up in the trees. Having been a student at Harvard during the late 1960’s, living out in a remote rain forest was what professors inspired us to do.

The five seasons in such a remote area allowed me to have personal experience with many animals. One day a baby anteater wandered into the camp. Its mother had either abandoned it, or been killed by a jaguar. Whatever the reason, the tiny anteater was all by itself.

We wanted to save it, feed it, help it survive. But when we leaned down to interact with the tiny baby puff of fur, it instinctively reared up on its hind legs, and prepared to defend itself.

An anteater defends itself by forming a tripod with its two back legs and its tail (to form the three parts of the tripod). The anteater is thus standing up tall and straight, with its arms stretched out (parallel to the ground).

The goal of the anteater tripod pose is to warn a dog or person that if they come closer the anteater will “hug” them with a potentially deadly embrace of its extended claws.

The anteater will use its one specially equipped claw to disembowel the dog (or person) who tries to come too near.

This defensive pose, as a tripod standing up, is instinctive. But the baby anteater had not yet learned where precisely to put his tail to create the perfect tripod position. So the anteater kept falling over.

Experience with an adult anteater

For many years FLAAR did research on plants and animals of Chiapas. We often visited ZOOMAT and got to know the zoologists there. One we provided an opportunity to join us rafting down the rapids of the Rio Usumacinta.

One of the curators was caring for an injured adult anteater at his home. So we had the opportunity to visit this anteater in a house. The anteater was as friendly as a dog or cat, since it was appreciative of the people who were helping to cure it.

The baby anteater who was lost and entered our camp had no prior experience with humans, and in any event was scared and lonesome since it had lost its mother.

But my experience is that most (not all) animals can “read” and recognize when a human will take care of them and help them.

I am not sure a crocodile can get cuddly with a person, but lots of other creatures can, even iguanas.

The present stage of our storyboards is featuring animals. However we have decades of experience doing high-resolution photography of the rare flowers of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

We specialize in studying utilitarian plants, used by the Maya for thousands of years.

This new web site of educational Neotropical animals with a basis in Mayan culture of Guatemala (and Mexico, Belize, Honduras) was launched in November 2015 based on over 50 years of experience by Nicholas Hellmuth in Mesoamerica.

Nicholas was at the Maya ruins of Palenque at age 16, and his high school thesis on the Maya ruins won first prize in his class. This kind of innovative “escape” from a normal summer of traveling to Europe, or spending the summer on a beach or in a swimming pool, or a summer of golf or tennis of other high school students, was a factor in being admitted to Harvard. Nicholas was not 1st in his class whatsoever; there were two students clearly smarter than he was. The difference (that got him first into Harvard, and later into Yale) was that Hellmuth was not afraid to jump into things in which he had no experience. Once he jumped in, he worked and worked learning about the new field of endeavor.

The next summer Nicholas happened to be at the same hotel in Tenosique, Chiapas, Mexico, as INAH archaeologists who were about to explore the recently discovered ruins and murals of Bonampak. They invited Nicholas to join them, so at age 17 there was already a remote jungle experience at Mayan ruins. Every summer Nicholas ventured further into the Mayan world: going to Copan Ruinas on top of a cargo truck load of sacks of beans (since in the 1960’s there was no bus service to Copan from Zacapa area of Guatemala).

While a junior at Harvard he took a year off as a volunteer intern at the large archaeological project at the Tikal ruins, El Peten, Guatemala (directed by the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania). His excavations discovered the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar, occupied by the jaguar-hide clothed skeleton of one of the ruling family of Tikal in the 9th century. This royal burial crypt and the pyramid which covered it was the subject of his Harvard thesis (awarded Summa Cum Laude; he graduated at the lower rank of Cum Laude since Nicholas is not very good at physics or advanced mathematics!).

In subsequent summers Nicholas was an archaeological intern at a Harvard project in coastal Peru, then the next summer a Yale university project deep into the Andes Mountains of Peru. In all this archaeological work, he specialized in photography. This is what eventually led, 20 years later, to founding the FLAAR Reports on evaluations of digital imaging technology, both cameras and especially wide-format inkjet printers.

For the last decade Dr Hellmuth has focused on the plants and animals of the Maya world; www.maya-ethnobotany.org and www.maya-ethnozoology.org show our studies of the recent and present years.