Gifts That Give Back

Shopping for the sloth lover in your life? Look no further! We can provide you with the perfect gift that will not only bring a smile to someone’s face, but will save a sloth at the same time! You can adopt your very own sloth, or we now have our best-selling 2018 sloths wall calendar and stunning coffee-table book available for purchase online and from Amazon, with proceeds going to support our sloth conservation efforts!

 

SLOTHS 2018 wall calendar ($14.99 / £10.99)

Sloth calendar cover
Beautiful, educational and heart-warmingly cute, SLOTHS 2018 is the second official calendar for the Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo): an organisation dedicated to saving sloths in the wild through research and conservation initiatives. By purchasing this calendar, you are directly supporting important conservation efforts to safeguard a future for these amazing animals. Each month features stunning, full-colour images of sloths in the wild, taken by world-renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas. Here, she captures some of the most precious and intimate moments shared between mother and baby sloths in their natural habitat while fascinating captions written by sloth researcher and SloCo founder Rebecca Cliffe offer surprising insights into the biology and behaviour of these unusual animals. Did you know that sloths have more ribs than any other mammal? Or that the modern tree sloths we see today evolved from extinct giant ground sloths, some of which were over 6 meters in height! This inspiring calendar is complemented by the inclusion of a 12-month yearly planner.

Click here to buy on Amazon (US)

Click here to buy on Amazon (Europe)

Click here for international delivery 

 

SLOTHS: Life in the Slow Lane ($20 / £25)

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Sloth expert Rebecca Cliffe and wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas have teamed up once again to produce this stunning coffee-table book which takes readers on an immersive journey through the jungles of South America to discover the secret lives of sloths. The story is illustrated through spectacular imagery capturing some of the most intimate and rarely seen moments, while the narrative reveals some of the latest scientific discoveries and provides fascinating insights into the previously unknown habits of these unusual animals. Proceeds from the sale of this book go towards supporting the work of the Sloth Conservation Foundation.

 

Click here to buy on Amazon (US)

Click here to buy on Amazon (Europe)

Click here for international delivery 

 

Adopt-A-Sloth

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Adopt a sloth today and receive an official personalised adoption e-certificate, full biography and history profile and high-resolution digital image of your adopted sloth, perfect for printing! You can choose between making a one-off payment or small monthly instalments, with 100% of the proceeds going towards sloth conservation! It’s a double win!

Click here to choose which sloth you would like to adopt! 

 

Do you think you are stronger than a sloth?

Do you think you are stronger than a sloth? Probably. Sloths are often perceived as being simple, lazy animals that do little other than sleep all day. In fact, you might find it downright insulting if somebody suggested that a sloth could beat you in an arm-wrestle. However, you may be surprised to know that sloths are, in fact, incredibly strong. Despite having 30% less muscle mass compared to other similar-sized mammals, we assume that sloths are weak, and that is just another example of humans underestimating what it really means to be a sloth.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Mother with newborn baby (less than 1 week old) climbing tree Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica
© Suzi Eszterhas

If you have ever watched a sloth move through the trees, you will know that they can execute extraordinary slow-motion acrobatics that would make any gymnast jealous. A sloth can easily suspend its entire body weight from a single limb, holding it at a 90-degree angle for over ten minutes. They can hold the crucifix position, suspended between two tree branches for extraordinary lengths of time and their grip strength can withstand the force of a harpy eagle trying to rip them from the tree. However, underneath that shaggy coat of fur, sloths are surprisingly skinny with particularly unimpressive ribbon-like muscles (kind of like a junior high student in a track suit in the weight room). So how, then, do they manage to perform such great feats of strength and stamina?

To answer this question, we collaborated with muscle physiology expert Dr Michael Butcher and his team from Youngstown State University and the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The resultant research paper has just been published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution. By meticulously dissecting, mapping, weighing, measuring and sampling each of the 52 muscles that can be found in the arm of a sloth, we were able to shed some light on the sloth’s mysterious movement. As the technical terminology in the research paper can be difficult to understand or interpret for anyone who hasn’t been trained in physiology, we will simplify and summarise the main findings below.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Male Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica *Digitally removed highlight in background
© Suzi Eszterhas

The muscles that sloths use to grip and produce a pulling motion are much more prominent than those that produce a pushing motion. Muscle tissue requires a lot of energy to produce and maintain, and this arrangement means that the sloths muscle mass is concentrated and limited only to the areas where it is most important. This simply means that sloths primarily use their arms to pull themselves upwards / along a tree branch, or to pull a branch towards the body for feeding or traversing a gap. They rarely have any need to push anything, and so maintaining muscles for this purpose would simply be a waste of energy. The arrangement of the individual fibres within the muscle also support this function, with the fibres becoming progressively more pennate (i.e. arranged at an angle rather than along the length of the muscle) towards the hand. When the fibres are more pennate, it means that they can produce more force, and in this instance, it would facilitate the strong pulling motion and incredible grip strength seen in sloths.

However, this research also threw out some surprises as not all muscles show the expected architecture. Instead, what appears to be happening is that the muscle groups responsible for movements are paired in unusual way so that muscles working together have opposing functions. I.e. one muscle group has properties that allow the joint to rotate quickly, while another muscle group working alongside it has properties to produce a lot of slow and steady strength. Muscles with opposing features working together in this unique way act as a trade-off and produces in the slow, deliberate and controlled movements shown by sloths.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Wild sloth climbing trees in forest at Sanctuary Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica
© Suzi Eszterhas

While these findings explain how the sloths manage to move in the way they do, it does not explain how their muscles are able to resist fatigue or how they are able to support the body weight for such prolonged periods. It does tell you, however, to never get in a pull-up or arm wrestling competition with a sloth. The sloths surprising stamina is in fact linked to special metabolic properties of sloth muscles and is the topic of our next research paper due to be published this month!

~ Rebecca Cliffe 

Founder and Executive Director
** All sloths used for the completion of this research died of natural causes

Why did the sloth cross the road?

For many species, the construction of a road slicing through the forest is an unwelcome inconvenience. Animals that can leap, such as monkeys, may be able to traverse the gap in the forest canopy without too much difficulty. However, if the gap is too large, animals are forced to descend to the ground and take their chances dodging traffic. In this situation, being able to move fast is helpful. Unfortunately for sloths, leaping is impossible and speed is certainly not their forte. As a result, when a sloth encounters a road it is somewhat catastrophic.

Sloths are not very agile on the ground. Their long limbs and elongated hook-like digits are adapted to support the weight of their body when hanging upside down, suspended from a tree branch for prolonged periods – a feat that almost all other animals would struggle to do. But when sloths are on the ground, their body weight pushes downwards on their limbs with gravity and they are forced to support themselves in the exact opposite way. However, as awkward and ungainly as they may seem in this position, they are perfectly capable of walking – it just takes them a little while longer to reach their destination! Running is simply out of the question, and so when it comes to crossing a road, sloths cannot ‘dodge’ traffic. Instead, they slowly venture out into the oncoming cars and chance their survival on drivers stopping and waiting for them to pass. This may seem like a suicide mission, and indeed it is why so many sloths fall victim to road collisions across south and central America every day.

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So why bother crossing the road in the first place?

Sloths have survived for millions of years in the undisturbed rainforest canopy. In this stable environment, they don’t need to be flexible in their behaviours. Due to their slow rate of digestion (taking 30 days to digest just one leaf) and low-calorie food choice (leaves), sloths have very little energy at their disposal. Therefore, in order to survive in a way which minimises energy expenditure, sloths have become the ultimate creatures of habit. Highly specific home-ranges and preferences for particular ‘modal’ trees are passed on from mother to infant, and a sloth will maintain this preference for the rest of its life. They know exactly which trees to feed from to acquire essential nutrients (while avoiding over-consumption of toxins) and they have no need to modify this pattern. Therefore, if a road is suddenly built which divides their home-range in half, a sloth will have no choice but to descend from the safety of the canopy and make the treacherous journey to the other side.

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Sadly, it is not just the traffic that poses a threat to sloths in this situation. Poorly-insulated power lines are strung along every road in Costa Rica and electrocutions are one of the leading causes of sloth mortalities. Concrete drainage ditches that run alongside many roads are death traps for wildlife, and when on the ground in an urban environment, sloths have no way to defend themselves and are vulnerable to attacks from both dogs and humans.

What can we do to help?

Several organisations are working to construct wildlife canopy bridges across major roads which are successful in facilitating the movements of numerous species. Although sloths have been known to occasionally utilise these bridges, they do not have the energetic flexibility to travel long distances to find a crossing. If there is no canopy bridge in the immediate area where they need to travel, they will continue to cross the road on the ground. We need to ensure there are frequent bridges lining busy roads and that natural canopy crossings are maintained wherever possible. Power lines need to be better insulated, or in an ideal world, moved underground. But most importantly, we need to respect the remaining forest and try to minimise any further disturbance to the sloths’ existing habitat. This will not be easy – with the human population increasing at an exponential rate we are never going to stop encroaching on the rainforest. But perhaps we need to start compromising. If we want to see the survival of wildlife, we can no longer simply bulldoze everything in our path to make way for towns, farms and cities. We need to protect key areas, consider the habitat requirements of species and make sure that we conserve the essential components. We need to learn how to co-exist.

~ Rebecca Cliffe

Update: Sloth Research, Conservation and Life in the Slow Lane

2017 has been an eventful year so far with new sloth research as well as the launch of our coffee-table book – with proceeds going towards supporting The Sloth Conservation Foundation 

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Male (covered in algae) Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

To begin, I have completed two more research papers that have both been submitted for publication (and are currently in the review process). The first one looks at the metabolic rate of three-fingered sloths and how this changes with temperature. We have found that the sloths are capable of doing something quite extraordinary when they get too hot – but I’m not able to give any further details away until the paper is officially published.

The second paper looks at the effect of temperature on the metabolic rate of two-fingered sloths. This time we look at how sloths from high altitude locations (where it is colder) have different metabolic adaptations to the climate. We also use climate change estimations to predict the impact that global warming will have on the energetics (and consequently the survival) of sloths in different regions. I will send links to both papers as soon as they are published, but for now that is all I can give away!

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Rebecca Cliff, sloth biologist, releasing sloth wearing "sloth backpack" Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica *Model release available

I am also still busy in the genetics lab. The analysis of the hair samples has taken far longer than expected (as always seems to be the case with sloths), but we are so close to the end now. We have most of the results already but there are just a few remaining samples that we have had to do repeat tests on. We are waiting to get the conclusive results through for those and then construction of the research paper can begin!

In the meantime, I have been busy writing the paper that encompasses all the work from the sloth backpack project. This includes all of the movement, activity, and behavioural data for all of the wild sloths that I studied for over 6 years. It has been a mammoth task to analyse the mountains of data and pick out exactly what is happening (imagine excel spreadsheets with over a million different rows….)! But I am glad to say it is almost complete. The biggest challenge has been trying to match up the sloth behaviour data with the corresponding weather data. It’s far too much to do manually, but with the statistical expertise of paeleo-ecologist Ryan Haupt from the university of Wyoming, we now have a solution.

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The Sloth Conservation Foundation 

My deadline for having all of this research finished is fast approaching as I have to hand in my PhD thesis in August. However, the sloth work does not end there. In august I am moving back to Costa Rica to work full time on the Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo). This will include continued scientific research as well as the implementation of our first targeted conservation strategies. These projects will be funded by the profits from our book and 2018 Sloth calendar and our adoptions/donations via our website. Our primary goals for 2018 are:

  • To initiate a project aiming to reduce the number of sloth electrocutions by funding the re-insulation of power lines in key areas
  •  To launch our first educational outreach program teaching children about sloths and the importance of protecting the rainforest ecosystem. We want to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to reduce their impact on wildlife in the future. In order to do this, we plan on employing and training local people to deliver classes in the community schools.
  • To improve rehabilitation and release programs by monitoring the long-term survival of hand-reared sloths that have been returned to the wild using radio-tracking equipment.

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SLOTHS: Life in the Slow Lane 

Finally, I would like to end by telling you about our latest fundraising venture for SloCo. I have teamed up with world renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas to produce a coffee-table book all about sloths. Pre-order copies are on sale now and for a limited time only come with a FREE signed print of an adorable sloth mom and baby
Getting the spectacular images for this book wasn’t easy… it took us on many wild adventures where we spent months on end in the jungle, were forced to go undercover, got stranded on a desert island and caught in tropical storms at sea. The book reveals some of the latest scientific discoveries and provides insights into the previously unknown habits of these unusual animals.

Click here to pre-order

Pygmy three-toed sloth Bradypus pygmaeus Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama

Lastly, I would like to thank you for your continued support. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to complete any of the research or conservation work that is so important to protect a future for sloths in the wild. I will provide a further update as soon as I can, but for now, it’s back to data analysis!

All the best,

Rebecca Cliffe

Images copyright Suzi Eszterhas www.suzieszterhas.com

 

 

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/

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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.