Auburn University student requests reports of armadillo sightings

Published 11:00 am Saturday, June 4, 2022

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Residents of Chambers County and elsewhere in Alabama are invited to assist an Auburn University student with her research project on leprosy in armadillos. They can call or text (334) 521-2777 to tell her where they’ve seen the animals whether they were alive or roadkill.

Olivia Sciandra, the student, said she is conducting the research in order to get a master’s degree in wildlife science. The advisor overseeing the project is Dr. Wesley Anderson, an associate professor in Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

Sciandra said she has two main research objectives. One is to record the prevalence of leprosy in armadillos throughout Alabama and see if there are differences between the northern and southern portions of the state. Her other objective is to see if there’s a difference in prevalence in rural verses urban areas. Sciandra said leprosy in armadillos hasn’t been studied much in Alabama.

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“They have been in Mississippi and Florida and Texas, so this will help fill that research gap to see how many armadillos in this state have leprosy,” she said.

Sciandra will get tissue samples, blood samples and take general measurements of armadillos alive and dead. She will humanely trap and release the ones that are still alive.

“What I’ve been doing nightly around Auburn, I’ve been going out with a net that you would use to go fishing, and if I find one, I get one and then take all my measurements I need and then release it back where I captured it,” she said.

Of course, since many armadillos carry leprosy, Sciandra has to take safety precautions when handling them. Fortunately, she said it’s difficult for humans to get leprosy from the animals.

“It’s believed that around 90 to 95% of people are immune to the bacteria,” she said. “So that’s one good thing. But in case I am a part of that five to 10% that is susceptible and could get leprosy, I’m taking all the precautions necessary including wearing gloves and sanitizing. And we take precautions with those samples as well, as far as storage and where it’s placed on campus before sending it out for testing.”

Sciandra said she needs to study about 200 armadillos. Half will be from all across Alabama, and the other half will be in and around Lee County.

She said funding for her research is coming from Auburn University through her advisor. She will send the samples out to the National Hansen’s Disease Program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for free testing.

“Really, the costs come from the equipment and for travel and things like that,” she said.

Sciandra said a couple of people have already reached out to her from Mobile and Huntsville.

“I am eventually going to be making my way to those areas in July and August,” she said. “So if someone reaches out and they say that they’ve seen an armadillo or they have a burrow on their property, I’m just letting them know that it’ll be a while before I can get out there. It may be a month or two. But once I’m in their area, I’m going to reach back out and see if they still have that armadillo on their property that I can collect.”

Sciandra said that armadillos like to hang out by roadsides, which is why they often get hit by motor vehicles. They are also often found in people’s yards.

“If someone reaches out and they have an armadillo on their property that they would like to have removed, I’m able to trap and remove them from that person’s property at no cost to them using them using humane trapping and removal,” she said. “So it’s a win-win. It’s free, and they get to have that armadillo removed from their property and then I’m able to collect the data that I need.”

Sciandra said she started her master’s thesis in January but started collecting data in May. She said it’s hard to say when the study will end and that she’ll be collecting samples from armadillos for the rest of the year.

“It may go until October or November of this year, but depending on how many I get, I might collect more next year, as well,” she said.

She said her research program will end in December 2023 and that she should have results by then.

Sciandra hopes the research article she writes about her project will be published in a scientific journal.