Aardvarks make short work of sand castle

IT took hours to create, but a pair of overly-enthusiastic aardvarks demolished an ornate sandcastle sculpture within seconds at Longleat.

Sisters Frankie and Nacho, who arrived at the safari park from a zoo in Spain earlier this year, have been keeping keepers busy by excavating huge amounts of sand from their new enclosure.

On numerous occasions staff have had to go into their enclosure and use shovels to dig out the entrance to the sisters’ indoor area.

In a bid to distract their attentions Longleat contacted a team of professional sand sculptors from the Weston Sand Sculpture Festival to create a giant castle.

“It’s been something of an uphill struggle ever since they arrived – a single aardvark can dig a hole quicker than a team of six workmen with shovels,” said senior keeper, Catriona Carr.

“We’d hoped the castle would capture their attention, give them some additional environmental enrichment and provide us with some temporary respite.

“We buried some of their favourite treats including mealworms and bugs within the castle so we were expecting they wouldn’t hang about. It took them a few minutes of sniffing around the castle to work out what the large pile of sand was but before too long they were climbing all over it!

“I think the beach sculptors were also a little taken aback as they’re used to their artworks surviving at least until the next tide comes in,” she added.

Originally from sub-Saharan Africa, aardvarks are renowned for their tunnelling abilities and are capable of digging through a metre of soil in 25 seconds. The two-metre-long mammals have specially-adapted spade-like claws on their front legs which allow them to dig out up to 50,000 bugs in a single evening.

They also have tongues measuring in excess of 30cms and nostrils which they can completely close to prevent dirt getting into their noses.

Once Frankie and Nacho are fully mature Longleat is hoping to introduce a male in a bid to set up a captive breeding programme for the species whose natural habitat is under increasing threat from humans.