Releasing hand-reared orphan sloths back into the wild

Can an orphan sloth that has been hand-reared in a rescue center survive after being released into the rainforest? As humans, can we raise that baby in a way that equips it with the survival skills necessary to safely navigate the treetops, find its own food and avoid predators? And what about the sloths internal immune-system defences: will these be strong enough after being raised in a sterile environment? There is only one way to find out, and so we are collaborating with the Jaguar Rescue Center to do exactly that!

The rehabilitation and release of orphan sloths is of increasing importance in the conservation and management of the species. In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the number of sloths arriving at wildlife rescue facilities in Central and South America, and although the species is not globally threatened, they are now recognised to be of conservation concern in Costa Rica. Sloths are requiring frequent rescue due to the loss or fragmentation of their habitat, disease, injury (often associated with traffic collisions, electrocutions or dog attacks), death of a mother with dependent young, or the necessity to relocate a sloth away from a dangerous location.

The primaryIMG_0600 aim of wildlife rehabilitation should always be to return each individual to the wild with maximum chances of survival whenever possible. A release is generally considered to be a success if the animal integrates into the wild breeding population and reproduces. The factors contributing to survival post-release are more complex for those sloths that have been orphaned and raised in captivity by humans compared to relocated or rehabilitated adults. A baby sloth is thought to stay with the mother for a full 12 months, during which time it acquires the essential skills required to survive in the wild. While many aspects of the sloth’s behaviour may be innate, certain skills must be learned. One such skill is knowing which leaves are safe to eat and where to find them, and this is a crucial lesson that wildlife rehabilitators must overcome to ensure an orphan sloth survives post-release.

To date no published studies have been carried out to determine the fate of rehabilitated, captive-reared or relocated sloths after release. Although sloths have been hand-reared and released into the wild by numerous organisations for over a decade, there has been no clear understanding of their fates because post-release monitoring with radio-telemetry has not been a common practice. This is due in part to the logistical problems associated with monitoring a cryptic arboreal species in a dense tropical rainforest, and also due to the financial burden of purchasing radio-telemetry equipment for rescue centres who receive no government funding. Consequently, there is much debate over whether hand-reared sloths can survive in the wild at all, with some institutions choosing to maintain orphan sloths as permanently captive animals to ensure their safety. With the increase in sloths arriving at rescue centres and the rapidly growing conservation concern for the species, it is becoming imperative that a standard protocol is established which enables organisations to achieve the optimum welfare outcome for each individual, whatever that may be! For sloths that do not have any physical impairments, disease or genetic problems, the ultimate goal of all wildlife rescue facilities needs to be to return these individuals back to the wild with long-term post release monitoring.

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Post-release monitoring can be grouped into 3 broad data categories: survival, movement and behavioural data. While most release efforts that utilise radio-telemetry typically only monitor the length of time an animal can be located in the wild, this can often leave it difficult to determine whether an animal’s death was due to natural causes, or because the animal was not properly prepared for release. To effectively evaluate the success of a release protocol it is therefore important to combine data on the animal’s movement patterns and post-release behaviour with any changes in the overall physical condition of the animal and comparisons with similar data from wild populations.

Back to the Wild

Here at SloCo we are incredibly excited be launching a long-term collaborative study to monitor and document the survival of radio-collared hand-reared sloths after being released from the Jaguar Rescue Center (JRC) in Costa Rica.

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The first 4 sloths scheduled for release were all rescued as tiny orphans (all weighing less than 600 grams) over 2 years ago and have now been equipped with VHF tracking collars and moved into the JRC’s state-of-the-art soft release enclosure.  This jungle enclosure is built over 30 meters in the air and is ideal for getting the sloths used to being up high in the rainforest canopy. The doors are scheduled to open in May 2019, and we will be tracking and reporting on the progress of these sloths for the next 2 years!

Sloths need more than just Cecropia for survival

Why do scientists sometimes feel the need to jump to extra conclusions, just so that they can have an eye-catching story for the media? This can be incredibly dangerous for the conservation of a species, particularly when the extra conclusion is wildly incorrect.  Here at SloCo we are dedicated to correcting the inaccurate information on sloths that is frequently published! Here is the latest one:
Recent research that has been picked up in the media this week concludes that sloths are “more adaptable to urban areas than we previously thought”. This is an eye catching tagline, but is unfortunately a complete misinterpretation of the studies results (…again)! In fact, sloths might be one of the least adaptable species imaginable, and to incorrectly claim otherwise is damaging for conservation efforts. The conclusion was based on genetic research in a cacao plantation which found that sloths with a high number of a particular tree species (cecropia) in their home ranges had higher survival rates and sired more offspring. That by itself is an interesting finding and suggests that planting cecropia trees could be useful for the conservation of sloths in urbanised areas (although this is already being done, as we have known for a long time that sloths utilise these trees when they are available). Either way, it is a nice result and gives scientific evidence to the benefit of these trees. They should have left it there. The story might not get picked up by the Conversation or the New York Times, but it is good science and helpful for conservation. Unfortunately, however, the authors and associated media went one step further and have insinuated that as long as cecropia trees are present in a given area then sloth populations should thrive (i.e. sloths can adapt perfectly well to the urbanisation of the rainforest and we have no need to worry, as long as we make sure there are enough cecropia trees dotted around). This tunnel-vision conclusion is where the problems arise.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Wild sloth crossing pavement at Sanctuary Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

Anybody that has worked with sloths in the wild for a significant length of time will know that they are not resource limited i.e. they do not struggle to find enough food, even in urban areas. It takes a sloth approximately 1 month to digest a single leaf and so they really can’t eat very much on a daily basis due to their constantly full stomachs. They subsist on a handful of leaves per day to meet their minimal energy requirements. Furthermore, they are known to feed from over 90 different tree species (i.e. a pretty diverse diet), and so as long as some of these trees are available, they won’t starve to death. It has been scientifically proven for a long time that sloths consume a wide variety of leaves, and so the groundbreaking discovery that they feed on trees other than cecropia isn’t actually a discovery at all – it’s just reiterating what we already know. Just because the authors noticed juvenile sloths utilising trees other than cecropia definitely doesn’t make sloths “more adaptable than previously thought”.

Sloths don’t NEED cecropia in their home range for survival at all – indeed these trees rarely grow in healthy rainforests (which is actually the sloths ideal habitat for survival and where they likely sire even more offspring). Similarly, however, many scientists do not like to study sloths in healthy rainforests because of the remote / difficult tracking conditions and dense canopy cover obscuring observations. As a result, there is very little data from pristine sloth habitats for comparison! To therefore conclude that “cecropia trees are critical for the survival and reproductive success of adult sloths” becomes a little ridiculous.

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Cecropia trees are already very common in urban areas as they are a fast growing, pioneering species. For this reason we use these trees in our reforestation and canopy connectivity projects, however sloth numbers are still declining at an accelerating and alarming rate. Despite the abundance of cecropia trees, rescue centres in Costa Rica are receiving 1-2 sloths every single day. The truth is that sloth populations are in rapid decline for 3 reasons that have nothing to do with cecropia tree availability (but everything to do with the sloths inability to adapt to habitat disturbance):
1. Power line electrocutions
2. Dog attacks
3. Road traffic collisions

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Sloths irrefutably need all of the help they can get, regardless of how many cecropia trees there are. We do not deny that the basic findings of the publication are useful, but to publish them with the associated tagline that “sloths are more adaptable to deforestation than previously thought” (just to make the story attractive for the media) is potentially catastrophic to sloth conservation, awareness and fundraising efforts.

Don’t Stress the Sloths – a guide to responsible tourism

We are so excited to launch our latest campaign in 2019 – how to enjoy sloths without stressing them out, a guide to responsible sloth tourism! Most people don’t realise the consequences of their actions, and so by raising awareness with this campaign we hope to establish safe guidelines that will help both humans and sloths to co-exist peacefully! We LOVE these incredible new posters designed by our chief sloth illustrator Cecilia Pamich:

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Sadly, hundreds of sloths every year fall victim to irresponsible tourism because people simply don’t realise the stress that they are causing. In Costa Rica sloths are regularly found low down or crawling across the ground between trees, and in excitement (or perhaps in an attempt to get the perfect selfie) people often crowd the animal, make a lot of noise and even reach out to touch the fur. This situation has been scientifically proven to cause a dangerous increase in the sloths heart rate and blood pressure, and can cause a female to lose or abandon her baby.

In high tourist areas sloths are also commonly exhibited by the side of the road, with unsuspecting passers-by being charged to take a photo with the animal. In reality, these sloths have been pulled from the trees, often the mother will be killed, and the baby used as a photo prop until it dies (or someone pays to rescue it). The sloth is then replaced in a vicious money-making cycle! We can stop this from happening by removing the demand through education and awareness!

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The Perfect Gift Ideas for Sloth Lovers!

Looking for the perfect gift for the sloth lover in your life?

Look no further – we have you covered! Our selection of sloth-themed Gifts that Give Back are still available for international delivery to arrive time for Christmas*! With proceeds going to support our sloth conservation efforts, it’s a double win!

Picture2 (2)Adopt-A-Sloth for Christmas!

We are now offering ‘PHYSICAL’ sloth adoption packages – perfect as a gift!

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In exchange for a donation, we will send you a full personalised adoption goodie-bag in the mail! Choose to adopt one of our 6 available sloths and you will receive:

  • A personalised adoption certificate
  • Full biography / history profile for your chosen sloth
  • A photo print of your adopted sloth
  • A copy of our new book: Sloths, Life in the Slow Lane

Click here to choose your sloth now!

 

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SLOTHS 2019 wall calendar ($14.99 / £10.99)

Receiver of the Amazon Choice Award for ‘best sloth calendar’ for the second year running!

Each month features rare and striking images of sloths in the wild, taken by world-renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas. Here, we showcase five different species of sloth, including the mysterious maned sloths, rarely seen pale-throated sloths and the infamous swimming pygmy sloths!
Each month is accompanied by fascinating captions which offer surprising insights into the biology and behaviour of these unusual animals. Did you know that sloths are the reason why we can eat avocados today? Or why sloths can often be seen kissing each other?

Click here to buy on Amazon (US)

Click here to buy on Amazon (Europe)

Click here for international delivery

 

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

This stunning coffee-table style book 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 provides fascinating insights into the previously unknown habits of these unusual animals!

“If you love sloths you need this book! The photos are amazing and its packed full of interesting information, even as a sloth lover I learned loads of new facts!”

“GORGEOUS and unusual coffee table book. Great gift for friends, family members, travelers, wildlife enthusiasts, students and of course – sloth lovers!”

“Excellent and informative book and perfect for anyone passionate about wildlife.”

Click here to buy on Amazon (US)

Click here to buy on Amazon (Europe)

Click here for international delivery

 

 

Sloths and Palm Oil: how can you help?

The world is waking up to the palm oil crisis that has driven orangutans to the brink of extinction, but is boycotting palm oil really the answer? Unfortunately no, but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless.

Last week the UK supermarket chain Iceland shone the international spotlight on palm oil after its controversial Christmas TV advert was banned from British television. The advert, which depicts an orangutan hiding in a child’s bedroom after loggers destroyed his rainforest home, has now been watched over 30 million times online making it one of the most successful Christmas adverts ever created. Similar to the anti-plastic movement that is sweeping across the world, this advert has stimulated an uproar against the palm oil industry. While it has been overwhelmingly successful at raising awareness of a very important issue, fears are growing as increasing numbers of people are demanding a boycott on palm oil. This is dangerous.

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Palm oil is used in approximately 50% of everything that we buy, ranging from food and shoes to cosmetics and cleaning products. It is everywhere and the demand is huge. Consequently, palm oil plantations are responsible for the majority of Malaysian and Indonesian deforestation, with a football pitch-sized area of forest being cleared every 25 seconds in Indonesia alone! However this is not just an issue affecting Asia. Palm oil plantations are also springing up in place of the sloths rainforest habitat in South and Central America, further adding to the ecosystem destruction occurring due to crops such as soy, bananas and animal agriculture.

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Boycotting palm oil, however, doesn’t mean that manufactures will simply remove oil from their products all together. It simply means that they will be forced to replace it with a different kind of vegetable oil. Unfortunately, palm oil is already the worlds most productive oil crop. All alternative oils such as soybean and rapeseed require up to 10 times more land to produce the same amount of product – increasing demand on these crops would be even worse. In addition, boycotting palm oil will drive the price down, consequently increasing the demand for use in biofuel and livestock feed, particularly in countries such as China and India.

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So what can we do?
Thankfully the answer applies to all aspects of consumerism, and will have benefits for species and habitats globally (including sloths!): sustainable shopping. Think carefully about the products that you buy because as the consumer, you have the power. Only choose products from manufacturers and retailers who use ingredients from sustainable, certified, legal and deforestation-free sources. They exist, you just have to know which ones to look for! We know this sounds like a lot of hard work – who has time to read every label and search online for every product that you want to buy? But the good news is you don’t have to! There is a wonderful (and free!) bar-code scanning app called Giki that will do all of the hard work for you. Just scan the product that you want to buy and it will tell you all of the information you could ever want to know about that product. Whether it’s local pollution, global climate change, conservation, animal welfare or health, it will give you everything that you need to make an informed decision! Thankfully, using this app will also help you to avoid fruit and produce that is contributing to the sloth deformity epidemic in Costa Rica by way of rampant pesticide usage and forest fragmentation. It’s a win for everybody!

Education Outreach

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. 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.

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This week we were delighted to host our biggest education outreach event in the city of Limon, providing a free 3-hour sloth workshop to over 50 Costa Rican school children. This workshop connects the children to nature and equips them with the knowledge and skills necessary to identify environmental challenges in their communities related to the conservation of sloths and the rainforest ecosystem. To do this we have designed a sloth and wildlife conservation curriculum that teaches children about the biology of sloths, the importance of the ecosystem, the challenges that sloths are facing and how they can help.

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This included providing each child with a 28-page activity booklet (designed by SloCo’s chief sloth illustrator Cecilia Pamich) which encourages learning through interactive games, puzzles and challenges. If you are a teacher or parent and are interested in using this booklet then it will be available for download from our website in 2019!

 

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One of the key lessons that we focus on is to teach the children how to distinguish between wild animals that belong in the rainforest, and domestic animals that can be kept in the home. Keeping wild animals as pets is unfortunately a very common yet illegal practice in Costa Rica, and we believe that the key to changing this practice is through education. By the end of our workshops all children are expected to know the differences between wild and domestic species and understand the consequence of having a wild animal as a pet.

 

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To document this, at the end of each workshop we get the children to sign a personal pledge in which they commit to protect the environment, respect nature and never keep or sell a sloth as a pet!

 

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Next week, each student is going to have the opportunity to bring what they have learnt to life by visiting a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center (the Jaguar Rescue Center). Here they will be able to witness first-hand which animals are in trouble, learn why they ended up in rescue center and see the ways that people are trying to help return them to the wild. Meeting these animals builds an emotional connection in the children and gives them a reason to get involved in helping to protect wildlife in the future. We are aiming to further expand our education program in 2019 to include programs for older children and to target schools in other regions! If you would like to help us fund more of these programs, please consider making a donation!

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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 today may grow up to become future scientists, biologists or conservationists, and as such, the simple power of education should never be underestimated.

NEWLY PUBLISHED: sloths hanging out for a drink!

Our latest work has just been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/fee.1955

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A long‐held presumption in ecology is that sloths get all the water they need from the foliage they consume, and few documented observations exist of either of the two sloth genera drinking in the wild. We photographed a male brown‐throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus) lapping water from the surface of a river in Costa Rica. This sighting prompts many additional questions. For example, how widespread is drinking behavior and how frequently does it occur? Methods used to assess water retention in wild sloths suggest that this behavior seldom occurs, so drinking is likely a method of maintaining osmotic balance when faced with extreme ambient temperatures, low precipitation, or increased consumption of mature (ie drier) leaves. If fresh water access is indeed important, there are further implications relating to the captive husbandry of sloths in zoos and rescue centers (where they often face drier climes, typically don’t have access to water, and have a very low survival rate), and for conservation, especially after habitat fragmentation, where changes in land use can restrict water access (eg irrigation diverting stable water sources, roads that are difficult for strictly arboreal animals to cross). Moving forward, the predicted trend toward a hotter, drier climate for Central and South American rainforests may negatively impact the sloths’ potentially delicate water balance, particularly in view of their limited energy budget and inability to travel long distances. If all sloths need a drink from time to time to stay healthy, it’s important to make sure they can get one.

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NEWLY PUBLISHED – the sloths extraordinary metabolic response to temperature!

We are delighted to announce that our latest sloth research paper was published today in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PeerJ! It is freely available for everyone to access and an online version is available here.
The results are fascinating and underpin much of the unusual behavioural ecology that we see in sloths, however we understand that not everyone will have the time or sloth-like patience to trawl through the actual publication (and unless you are a scientist, you might find the paper a little tedious). For those of you who don’t fancy reading the full manuscript, we have written a short, simple summary of the project below.

A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND…

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Typically, mammals have something called a thermo-neutral zone. This is basically a comfortable range of temperatures in which they use very little energy because they don’t need to control their body temperature (or thermo-regulate). This thermo-neutral zone differs between species, but it is usually always there at some point. On either side of this zone, either when it is too cold or too hot, mammals use lots of energy trying to make sure that their core temperature stays at a comfortable level. Reptiles and birds, however, don’t have this zone. They use very little energy when it’s cold and a lot of energy when its hot (because they can’t control their body temperatures and all metabolic processes work faster in hotter temperatures).

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To complicate matters, when faced with extreme conditions (such as hot/cold temperatures, or a lack of resources) many mammals can enter a ‘hypometabolic’ state (i.e. lowering metabolic rate) to conserve energy and aid survival until conditions become favourable again. Such states, including hibernation, daily torpor and aestivation, all vary in length but are characterised by a drop in both body temperature and metabolic activity. The molecular mechanisms underlying the active control and suppression of metabolic rate in mammals remain poorly understood and are the subject of a lot of recent research due to the potential far-reaching medical implications.
But where do sloths fit into all of this? Given the strong link between sloth body temperature and that of the environment (which has led to them being likened to reptiles), an increase in temperature should, theoretically, result in an increase in metabolic rate. However, nobody really knows. Considering the sloths limited energy supply and the potential knock-on effects of a warming climate, we designed an experiment to find out.

 

WHAT WE DID…

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We determined the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of 8 adult three-fingered sloths (B. variegatus) using indirect calorimetry (i.e. by monitoring the oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production of sloths that were sleeping inside of a metabolic chamber in Costa Rica). We changed the temperature of the chamber (within the natural range that sloths would typically experience in the jungle) while simultaneously recording the sloths body temperature, activity and postural adjustments.

 

AND WHAT WE FOUND OUT….

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It appears that sloths do not behave like mammals, reptiles OR birds when it comes to their metabolic response to temperature. They use very little energy when it is cold (just like a reptile), lots of energy in the middle (between 26-30 degrees), but then as they get too hot, they begin to use less energy again. This reduction in metabolic rate at high temperatures is the exact opposite of what typically happens in all other animals.

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So why would they do this? Well at cold temperatures, the sloths are in a similar situation to reptiles (unable to raise their body temperature and so the metabolic rate is very low). In the middle zone, the temperature is ideal and so they can burn energy at the optimal rate (this looks like using lots of energy, but it might actually just be normal energy expenditure for a sloth). We nominally refer to this as the sloths “thermally-active zone”. This middle temperature range coincides closely with average daytime temperatures in tropical forests, when three-fingered sloths happen to be the most active and feed the most. This links in well with one of our previous publications that shows that sloths eat more at hotter temperatures due to their increase in metabolic activity increasing their rate of digestion (see: ‘Sloths like it hot: ambient temperature modulates food intake in the brown-throated sloth, Bradypus variegatus’).

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Finally, and here is the odd part, when it gets too hot the sloths can temporarily (and perhaps strategically) actively depress their metabolism in a manner which seems unique in the animal kingdom. While we don’t know exactly how they are doing this, to our knowledge this is the first physiological evidence of a mammal quickly invoking reversible metabolic depression without entering a state of torpor, aestivation or hibernation. But what could be the benefit? Well, when it gets too hot in the wild, all a sloth can really do is to move into the shade to cool down. It would therefore make sense to sit still, sleep through it, and wait for the conditions to become more favourable for activity. Whilst sitting still, by depressing their metabolism they are simultaneously saving energy and also reducing the amount of metabolic heat being produced by their body (and therefore staying a little bit cooler).

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Due to slow rates of digestion limiting the rates of energy acquisition, all sloths exist under severe energetic constraints. It appears that delicate adjustments of metabolic rate – in part as a response to temperature – are one way in which sloths conserve energy. Reductions in metabolism therefore minimise energy expenditure at cold temperatures and reduce the risk of hyperthermia at hot temperatures.

Ultimately this broadens our knowledge of how animals deal with variation in temperatures, and further work to determine the underlying molecular mechanisms controlling the metabolic depression in sloths could provide important insights into the active control and suppression of metabolic rate in all mammals. In addition, this gives us vital information about how sloths rely on the envoronmental conditions for all aspects of their energy usage, and we will need to take this into account as we consider the impact of a warming climate on the sloths survival in the future.

The Great Sloth Run – the first ever 5K race to benefit sloth conservation!

We are excited to announce that, together with Pangols and Sloth Relief & Shelters, we are launching the first ever 5K race to benefit sloth conservation – The Great Sloth Run!

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You can compete to win, or you can simply channel your inner sloth and go as slowly around the course as you like – as long as you make it to the finish line! Participants will receive a race T-shirt and a race medal, in addition to gifts from sponsors in the packet pick up. There will be prizes for first second and third place, in addition to a prize for the best sloth costume! The race is capped at 250 individuals so it’s probably best to sign up first and nap later!

This 5K will be held in Arlington, Virginia on November 3rd. The race will begin at 11:30 AM at Bon Air Park and participants will run along a section of the Bluemont Trail. Don’t worry if you aren’t in the area, we also have a limited virtual option for up to 50 people where you will still be able to receive a medal and a T-shirt in return for your participation. However, if you are going for this option we do encourage you to sign up quickly as places are limited and you may not receive your goodies in time for the event.

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Here is how you can get involved:

1. If you would like to participate in the official run in Virginia, simply register here at Race Entry.

2. Virtual runners can purchase their participation package here.

3. Register to fundraise on Givebutter.

4. Start collecting donations – the more you fundraise for the sloths, the better! We are asking for people to try to raise $200 to start at the official event.

5. Check out the event page on the Pangols website!

6. Also, check out the Facebook event and reguster your attendance!

 

Good luck and see you on November 3rd!

Sloth Island, Guyana: in pursuit of the pale-throated sloth!

Hiding deep within the remote jungles of South America, there is an elusive and commonly overlooked species of sloth clinging onto survival. The pale-throated sloths are perhaps the most striking of all the sloth species, with a large bright yellow face, white throat and mottled fur, and yet they also receive the least attention. While the maned sloths and pygmy sloths are famous for their critically endangered conservation status, and the brown-throated sloths are the most commonly seen species, the pale-throated sloths have slipped under the radar for decades. They have also bypassed the attention of the scientific community, with not a single scientist currently researching any aspect of their ecology or behaviour. With this in mind, SloCo Founder and Executive Director Dr Rebecca Cliffe and award-winning wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas embarked on a mission to locate and photograph the pale-throated sloths in order to shine a spotlight on the plight of this mysterious species.

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The first big challenge when planning this adventure was deciding where to go to find the sloths. This species can only be found on the east coast of South America, ranging from Venezuela through Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana and into Northern Brazil. These regions receive very little tourism, and so finding an area where the sloths can be found reliably in the wild in relatively high densities (and not just at the tops of the tallest rainforest trees where photographs become impossible) was certainly challenging. After doing a lot of research, everyone that we spoke to unanimously directed us to the same place; Sloth Island in Guyana. This appropriately named island is located in the vast Essequibo river (the 3rd largest river in South America) and was named by early Guyanan settlers who discovered that it was home to a particularly impressive abundance of sloths. The island is now privately owned by a fascinating man called Raphael who has constructed an idyllic Eco-lodge and vowed to protect the pristine rainforest that covers the interior of the island.

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Sunset at Sloth Island, Essequibo river, Guyana

Before our arrival at the lodge we were told that we would be met by a Guyanan man from the ‘Macushi’ tribe called Claude, who is the caretaker of the island and apparently a master sloth-spotter. Claude did not disappoint. Within 30 seconds of landing on the island he had already pointed out our first sloth; a young male sleeping in a tree right outside the front door of the lodge. It was a good sign of things to come. The male sloth remained in the garden of the lodge for a full week, regularly coming down to within a few meters of the ground in the afternoons to seek out shade from the scorching sun – a perfect position for photographs! Because much of the island floods at high tide, much of our sloth searching in the dense forest was restricted to a wooden canopy walkway, raised about 6 feet off the ground. This didn’t hamper our sloth spotting opportunities however, as Claude proceeded to point out 13 different sloths over the course of 5 days, including two females carrying tiny babies. One of these females blessed us with her presence every single day, hanging out peacefully right above the walkway and descending to just above head height to feed on vines in the afternoons. This unfortunately always coincided with the aforementioned male sloth (who also descended from the canopy in the afternoons) and triggered a lot of chaotic sprinting back and forwards through the jungle carrying heavy camera equipment! We thought that our biggest challenge would be finding the sloths, but it actually turned out to be choosing which sloth to prioritise and getting the camera set up in the right place to catch the rapidly unfolding action (really quite ridiculous considering we were working with the worlds slowest mammal)! In one instance we were following a female sloth with a baby and didn’t realise that there was a second male sloth hanging out in the exact same tree until she quite literally climbed right up to him. Sloth Island really did live up to its name.

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We spent 12 continuous hours waiting for a sloth to wake up – and then three sloths all appeared at once

 

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Exactly why there are so many sloths on the island compared to the mainland remains a bit of a mystery, although it is likely that the island represents a sort of safe haven due to a lack of land predators (although the breath-taking harpy eagle – one of the largest species of eagle in the world and the sloths main predator – can regularly be seen scouring the skies around the island)! Though the island is famous for its sloths, we were regularly surrounded by all sorts of wildlife – from waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys and dodging piranhas in the river to watching spider monkeys leap through the canopy and ending the day with thousands of Amazonian parrots filling the sky. Guyana represents one of the few remaining areas of the world where nature dominates over human disturbance. With a human population of only 750,000 (virtually all of which live on a narrow strip of land by the ocean) and very little tourism, this means that over 80% of the country is still covered in undisturbed rainforest. Guyana really is an undiscovered and unparalleled paradise for nature lovers. To top it all off, a historic agreement made between Norway and Guyana represents a perfect example of how developed and developing countries can work in partnership to save the worlds tropical forests. Norway pledged to provide financial support of $250 million in exchange for Guyana halting deforestation over a 5-year period.5
While tourists flock in their thousands to countries like Costa Rica (which has a primary forest cover of only 3.5%) to see sloths and other tropical wildlife, the truly wild countries like Guyana remain well off the beaten track. If you are planning a vacation and want to see sloths in the wild, or just want to embrace your wild side and experience the jungle exactly how nature intended it, there is no better place than Sloth Island in Guyana!

To learn more about Sloth Island and to book your visit, check out their website by clicking here.

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