CALL TO ACTION – the sloth “sanctuary” of Oregon

A recent media splash advertising “sloth sleepovers” has drawn our attention to the alleged “Sloth Sanctuary” in Portland, Oregon. While this centre has been on our radar for some time, we are growing incredibly concerned by the threat that this institution poses. The “Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center” promotes itself as a “highly specialized endangered and delicate species Wildlife Conservation Center” which is focused on “captive husbandry research” of sloths. While all of that sounds wonderful on the surface, there are a number of major flaws in their operation.

  • Firstly, Oregon seems like a strange place for a sloth ‘sanctuary’. Sloths are only found in the rainforests of Central and South America and there really aren’t many in need of rescue from the concrete streets of Portland. Now the center claims that they work with logging companies in South America and offer an alternative home for the displaced animals. However, there is a glaring problem with that story. If a patch of forest is indeed being cleared, the resident sloths should simply be relocated to a nearby forest reserve. There is absolutely no need, nor excuse, for adult, wild sloths to be exported to the U.S. for any reason. If it is a baby or juvenile sloth that is displaced, it should be transported to a qualified in-country rescue center where a process of hand-rearing and rehabilitation can return the animal to the wild. No sloth retirement home in the U.S. necessary.
  • Secondly, this “successful” sloth research center has published a grand total of zero scientific research papers. None. Not a single one. Despite having maintained hundreds of sloths in captivity for almost 30 years for “research purposes”. It is utterly impossible to call yourself a research centre if you are producing no research.
  • We have heard several reports that this organisation actually exports wild-caught sloths in astonishing numbers from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador where the export laws are slack. In any case, it is well documented that this organisation breeds their sloths on arrival (they brag quite heavily about this on their website). A little bit of detective work on google produces ample evidence which shows the founder of this organisation selling some of the resultant baby sloths into the U.S. pet trade for $4000+. The rest are maintained by the center to supply their “pet a sloth” and “sloth sleepover” schemes which are charged at an eye watering $600. Here at SloCo we are aware of, and are heavily involved with, most of the current sloth conservation efforts occurring across South and Central America. If the money raised by this organisation is going to support any such conservation initiatives then we are yet to hear about it. Perhaps the money is going to fund their sloth research programs?… zero of which have actually contributed anything to the scientific knowledge of these animals.
a post on exoticanimalsforsale.net clearly advertising baby sloths for sale from the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center
A post on exoticanimalsforsale.net clearly advertising baby sloths for sale from the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center (Chasing-Tail.com)

Sadly, the center receives great reviews from happy guests who have managed to fulfil lifelong dreams of hanging out with sloths. We are confident that the reviews wouldn’t be quite so glowing if visitors could see the true behind-the-scenes workings. Sloths across South and Central America are suffering in unimaginable numbers due to habitat loss, electrocutions, road collisions, dog attacks, poaching…etc. True rescue centres are voluntarily working tirelessly around the clock to mitigate the impacts of this, often without receiving any government funding. It is somewhat sickening for us to witness such pain first-hand on a daily basis, whilst some institutions are blatantly contributing to the problem by cashing in on the popularity of sloths.

"Carnal Contessa", the founder of the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, selling a baby sloth online
“Carnal Contessa”, the founder of the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, selling a baby sloth online

 

So, what can we do about it?
This is where we need your help. The only way to instigate change in this situation is to raise awareness and share the truth. We urge you to share this post with your friends, family, and anyone that you think may be considering visiting the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center. We also want to spread the message to media outlets who may have publicised this institution and relevant authorities who are allowing this to continue. Contact details for these people can be found at the end of this post.
It can be disheartening and depressing to discover that people with seemingly good intentions are actually instigators of the problem. This case in particular leaves a bitter taste in our mouths due to the scale of the deception. We promise that we will do everything within our power to prevent this from continuing and we are confident that, with your help, we can put an end to this abhorrent act.
“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

Please share this post with anyone that you think may be interested and email/contact/hound the authorities to investigate. Some suggestions are listed below.

Oregon senators:

Merkley, Jeff – (D – OR) Class II
313 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-3753
Contact: www.merkley.senate.gov/contact/

Wyden, Ron – (D – OR) Class III
221 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-5244
Contact: www.wyden.senate.gov/contact/

CNN (recently produced this article on the center):

http://www.cnn.com/feedback/

twitter handles: @CNNMoney @cnn @TeamCNN

email: cnn.feedback@cnn.com

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

https://www.fws.gov/offices/Directory/ListOffices.cfm?statecode=41

Humane Society:

http://www.humanesociety.org/forms/contact_us/wildlife_contact_form.html?credit=web_globalfooter_id85552161?referrer=https://l.facebook.com/

becky1

 

 

 

 

 

Yours Sincerely,
Rebecca Cliffe,
Founder and Executive Director

 

How can I get a job with sloths?

“Your job is amazing”, “How can I get a job like that?”, “I want to be a sloth scientist”
These are the usual responses I get when I tell people that I’m a sloth researcher. Granted, I love what I do, but unfortunately I have to correct the situation rather quickly – a ‘job’ would suggest I get a wage. Since embarking on this wild and wonderful journey almost 7 years ago, I haven’t been paid once. Everything that I do, every day, is a labour of love. But how did I get here? How do I survive? and… why on earth do I do it? From here on out I am going to be brutally honest about my life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I get a lot of emails – from people of all ages and from all walks of life – who are genuinely thinking about following in my barely-there footsteps, wanting to know the next steps to take. I fully applaud anyone who is brave enough to consider quitting their day job to pursue something that they are passionate about, but first I think it’s only fair to give a realistic account of this lifestyle away from the fluffy, filtered stuff that you see on social media.


Where it began
I’ve always loved animals. Never sloths specifically, but simply being outdoors and surrounded by nature has always been my preferred place. When contemplating career choices, I knew I was good at biology in school and I knew that I wanted to do something with animals – so a degree in zoology was the obvious next step. It was during my time as a student that I discovered and fell in love with the world of sloths. I had opted to take a 12-month research placement as a part of my course and, by some miracle, the opportunity arose to work at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. I knew instantly that I had to get the job. I didn’t have the best grades and knew it was a long shot, but I have honestly never prepared for anything as much as I prepared for that interview. I spent weeks reading every sloth research paper I could find and turned up 2 hours early for the interview. I am perpetually late for everything in life (one of my many sloth-like tendencies), so anyone who knows me will know how much of a big deal my early arrival was. Thankfully, my enthusiasm (and borderline desperation) paid off and I was offered the position! Three weeks later I was on a one-way flight to the Costa Rican jungle – not realising that my life was about to change forever.

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Like most other people on my course I could quite simply have completed my research placement, returned to the university and got on with a normal life. As is becoming apparent, however, I like to bite off more than I can chew. I threw myself head-first into the world of sloths and took on numerous projects that I was told several times were “far too ambitious”. Admittedly, deciding to collect data readings every 4-hours, 24-hours a day for 8 months was a little crazy – but I did it. I may have ended up with a rather confused body clock, but I had enough data to fuel a killer thesis. Thanks to the endless support of my supervisors and the Sloth Sanctuary, I ended up with the highest university placement grade that year and I was offered a PhD on the back of it. Lesson learnt – if you are willing to work hard and make sacrifices, you can make anything happen. Just follow your heart and don’t get too caught up on the idea of “career prospects” at the end of it.
“I want to be a sloth researcher”
Living in the western world, we are brought up in a society where ‘normal’ involves having a stable job, a beautiful home, a loving family, and a comforting pension waiting for us at the end of it all. Life is relatively secure. The path that I have chosen is far from that. I have emptied my life savings, accumulated eye-watering amounts of student debt, and I am now surviving on loans from family members. I juggle several part-time jobs alongside my full-time PhD, haven’t had a day off in 9 weeks and I still don’t break even. If your dream is to make money, I can only advise that you do not venture into the world of wildlife conservation or research. And it isn’t just the financial struggle. I am never in the same place for much longer than a year. Relationships are near on impossible to maintain and I constantly miss my friends and family. I get settled somewhere, and then I must uproot my entire life and move to some place new. I have packed up everything I own and moved house 7 times in the last 14 months. I will never have the house with the white-picket fence, and I have come to accept that.

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But working with sloths is fun… right? Well for the last year I have been in Swansea, hidden behind my desk pulling my hair out trying to make sense of the data I have collected. Spending days on end working through excel spreadsheets containing 2 million rows of data, trying to wrap my head around statistics (NOT my strong point), and attempting to extract genetic material from the most minute hairs imaginable – in short, there has been absolutely no sloth action whatsoever!

genetics
© Becky Cliffe

Life in the field does thankfully come with sloths, but also its trials and tribulations. Making home in a new country, where I don’t speak the language and certainly don’t have the luxuries of the western world is challenging. Living in a place where we go days without electricity or running water. Where 100% humidity means that everything you own grows a furry green coat of mould. Including your hair. Where you walk through the jungle and everything wants to either eat or sting you. The plants you brush against bring you out in constant mystery rashes, the spiders make webs across the path large enough cover your entire body, and that tickling feeling on the back of your leg – it’s probably a leaf but could well be a tarantula. The mosquitos are determined to suck your blood dry and you’d better get out of the way of the army ants that descend on your house without giving you a choice in the matter. Oh, and not forgetting the flesh-eating parasites that leave you needing months of intensive treatment. All in all, it’s messy!
But honestly, none of that really matters. I count myself as extremely lucky. As you may expect, working hands-on with sloths is truly magical and the Costa Rican jungle is bursting with raw, astounding beauty. I have the pleasure of falling asleep to the chirps of tree-frogs and waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys. Spectacular butterflies fill the air during the day and fireflies light the path at night. Picture perfect beaches are everywhere, the food is delicious and the local people are among the kindest I have ever met. There is a reason that “Pura Vida” is the most commonly used phrase around here: literally translating as “pure life”.

© Sarah Kennedy
© Sarah Kennedy

More importantly, however, I have found my true passion in life – the thing that sets my soul on fire – and I am fortunate enough to be indulging in that passion every single day (even if it does mean I can only afford to eat rice and beans). I know that the work I am doing is genuinely going to make a lasting impact on the conservation of a species I love, and no amount of mosquito bites can dampen that thought. For me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
If your ambition and desire to work with sloths (or anything else for that matter) overrides the need for stability and comfort in your life – then you should absolutely chase that dream. But you must throw yourself into it head first. There is no such thing as a “sloth scientist” job – you have to make it work any way you can. As long as you believe in yourself and are willing to put the effort in, you can make it happen. I have been told a million times that this isn’t a sustainable life plan, or that I am being too ambitious, or – worse than all of that – I am just some crazy girl who will never make a difference. But as Steve Jobs once famously said “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”.

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The small nagging voice in the back of my head constantly reminds me of life’s practicalities, but I have never been more confident in the path I am taking. I am lucky enough to have found my passion, I have a dream for the future, and I am going to fight for it. In moments of doubt I look at the journeys taken by some of my biggest idols in the world of wildlife conservation – Jane Goodall, Dianne Fossey, Wangari Maathai …. – not a single one took the easy, financially secure route. They were brave, took risks and stood up for what they believed in.
After all, “well behaved women rarely make history”. Perhaps there is a lesson in that somewhere for all of us.

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Becky Cliffe

Founder and executive director

The Power of Education

Welcome to our first official blog post for The Sloth Conservation Foundation – and just in time for International Sloth Day which we celebrated on October 20th. One of the most important things for us here at SloCo is education. That doesn’t mean just helping those individuals or organisations who work directly with Sloths (although we do like doing that as well), but also the future generations and local communities. In order to instigate long-term change, we strongly believe that planting the seeds of knowledge and awareness from an early age are the key to success.

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With this in mind, we recently embarked on our first environmental education program in a local school in Costa Rica and have now completed three separate workshops, all aimed at teaching children between the ages of 3-5 about the wonders of their local wildlife. We have covered not only sloths (of course) but also monkeys and snakes. Although the missions of SloCo target conservation of sloths in the wild, it is hugely important to us that the children who live in this environment – the children who will grow up to be responsible for future conservation efforts – know as much as possible about the wildlife that surrounds them every day. Many of the issues that are threatening sloth populations are having a similar effect on a multitude of species: poaching, electrocution, traffic collisions, animal cruelty and habitat loss to name a few.

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So why is education important? Most of the issues that sloth populations are facing are caused by humans. We are the reason that trees are being chopped down and replaced with towns, roads, fruit plantations and pastures. It’s a local problem – from individuals carrying out the act to authorities permitting it, but also an international problem – from the consumers who want the cheap fruit to the irresponsible tourists and importers / buyers of sloths for the pet trade.

Adding to that, sloths haven’t always had the best reputation in Central and South American countries. In 1749, French naturalist Georges Buffon was the first to describe the creature in his encyclopedia of life sciences, saying:

“Slowness, habitual pain, and stupidity are the results of this strange and bungled conformation. These sloths are the lowest form of existence. One more defect would have made their lives impossible.”

Given such a precedent, it is of little surprise that sloths are subject to such profound speculation and misinterpretation, ranging from the benign – that they sleep all day – to the creative anecdotes we regularly hear, such as: “Sloths are so stupid that they mistake their own arm for a tree branch”. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a more sinister tone. Because sloths move so awkwardly on the ground and have moths and algae living in their hair, people occasionally perceive them as dirty and evil creatures. Some even go as far as “the devils animal”. Such a viewpoint is rooted in a lack of education, and it is incredibly important to change that. Why would anyone want to protect something that they think is grotesque? Or a perceived danger? As Baba Dioum once famously said:

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

The children that we teach may grow up to become future scientists, biologists, conservationists (to name a few), and as such, the simple power of education should never be underestimated.

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As part of our environmental education program we have taken school children to a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center – The Jaguar Rescue Center (JRC). The Jaguar Rescue Center was established in 2008 and is dedicated to helping animals in need. The JRC rehabilitates injured, sick and orphaned animals and releases those who are restored to good health back to their natural habitat (to find out more about this organization visit here). During our visit the children were able to see all of the animals that we had been talking about – up close and personal! They were also able to see first hand which animals are in trouble, learn why they ended up in rescue centers and see the ways that people are trying to help return them to the wild. Although this is our first school initiative, we will be continuing  and expanding this program throughout Costa Rica.

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n.b. huge thanks to the school and the teachers involved, as well as the amazing children we got to teach. Also thanks to Encar Garcia, Dexter Miller and Mat Bowman at The Jaguar Rescue Center.