Sloth diversity – Species

This week we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity! Did you know that the sloths we see today only represent a very small amount of the sloth diversity that once existed? Just 6 species remain, 4 three-fingered sloth species in the Bradypodidae family and 2 species of two-fingered sloth in the Megalonychidae family. Yet the fossil record records over 50 sloth species spread over eight different families! These include the giant ground sloths which could reach over 7 meters in height!

22 biodiversity day

With over 1 million species now threatened with extinction, the loss of biodiversity now poses as much danger to life on Earth as climate change does. Click here to learn more about the endangered species of sloth and how you can help to save them from extinction!

Thinking about a pet sloth?

Sloths are rising in popularity as exotic pets, but please read this information if you are considering getting a pet sloth for yourself!

Firstly, sloths are wild animals – not domesticated pets. These wild animals maintain their natural instincts. They are also a solitary species that lives alone in the wild. That means that they do not like to be petted, groomed or bathed because these are not natural behaviours for them. Sloths are also prey animals, and a large human hand lurching forwards to stroke them can be incredibly stressful. This is further complicated because unlike many animals, sloths do not show obvious external signs of stress. Their natural response to fear or danger is to hold still, and as a result, it is difficult to tell when a sloth is scared or stressed. The animal may look perfectly happy to us – but the reality will probably be very different.

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The sad reality is, sloths that are sold as pets usually come from the wild. Even if the baby sloth was born in the US, it’s more than likely that the parents would have been taken from the wild several years earlier. Sloths are very slow to breed: the gestation period is 11 months, they only give birth to one baby at a time and this infant needs its mother’s milk for a long while after that. In the wild, baby sloths usually spend a full year with their mothers before reaching independence. This means that the sloths currently being held in captivity in the US cannot physically produce enough babies to meet the ever-increasing demand from people wanting pet sloths. So every year, hundreds of sloths are removed from the wild and shipped to the US from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador where export laws are slack. These individuals are then forced to breed and the babies are sold into the pet trade at eye-watering prices. As a consequence of the pet trade demand, sloth numbers are crashing rapidly in the wild.

The ‘cuteness’ of a baby sloth is what everybody focuses on. The sad reality of the situation is often overlooked and this doesn’t just pose a threat to the sloths, but can also endanger the sloth owners themselves. Sloths might look fluffy but they are not teddy-bears – they are wild animals and they have big teeth. We have worked with hundreds of sloths over the years, (both wild and human-reared) and they can all inflict serious injuries if scared or irritated. We have seen a sloth bite through a human hand leaving a hole big enough that you could look through. When they reach independence (at the age of about 18 months ), even the most gentle of hand-reared sloths just do not want to be handled any longer. We suspect that many people are going to learn this the hard way and will find themselves with an expensive, hard-to-handle sloth that could live for up to 50+ years.

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The skull of a two-fingered sloth – sloths have big teeth and they like to use them!

The anthropomorphism, exploitation and desire to “own” wild animals is by no means an issue that is confined to sloths; indeed, many species are on the brink of extinction because of it. It’s also not a problem that is confined just to the pet trade; it is much bigger than that. It’s an issue of ethics and morality. We believe that the trouble lies in the way we, as humans, have historically seen ourselves as the dominant species, and the way in which we have morally justified our use of wild animals for centuries. Thankfully, this outdated attitude appears to be quickly changing in recent years and education is unequivocally the key. As the environmentalist Baba Dioum once famously said:

In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

If you are considering getting a sloth as a pet, we desperately urge you to seek an alternative way to express your love for these amazing animals. You could volunteer at a reputable rescue center that works with injured and orphaned sloths (check out the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica), or you could symbolically adopt a sloth for yourself! If you have any questions about having a sloth as a pet or would like to speak to an expert about the topics we have discussed here, please email us at slothconservation@gmail.com. Alternatively, if you know someone who is seeking a pet sloth, please share this post with them!

Endangered Sloths – how can YOU help?

This week we are commemorating Endangered Species Day by taking a closer look at the two types of sloth that are currently threatened with extinction. There has never been a more important time for conservation action, with a UN report earlier this month declaring that over 1 million species are now at risk of extinction. The loss of species and habitats now poses as much danger to life on Earth as climate change does.

While this news is shocking, we still have good reason to be optimistic. Every single person has the power to save endangered species. The way that each of us shops, eats, and the small choices that we make in our everyday lives all influence the likelihood of many species surviving. Please don’t ever underestimate the collective impact of your daily actions!

Of the six species of sloth that exist today, two are threatened with extinction. The maned sloth is a bit of an oddball – a species of three-fingered sloth which boasts a mane like a lion! These elusive creatures now only exist in a tiny strip of Atlantic forest on the coast of Brazil and are currently listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss from lumber extraction, plantation clearance, agriculture and charcoal production. There is also some evidence to show poaching for both food and the pet trade. The maned sloths are larger and more aggressive than the other species of three-fingered sloth, and they are the only species in which males do not develop a brightly coloured “speculum” (an orange patch of fur on the back) at sexual maturity!

17 endangered maned

The second endangered species on our list is the pygmy sloths. This is a little species of three-fingered sloth that can only be found on a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of Panama and was only identified as a new species in 2001. They are thought to be approximately 40% smaller than their mainland counterparts and although the population size remains unknown, these little sloths are considered to be one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world. They average around 3 Kg in weight and are approximately 24 inches long, looking very similar to the brown-throated sloth.

 

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If you would like to know what YOU can do to help save sloths from extinction, we have compiled a list of 7 simple ways that you can help sloths today!

Game of Sloths

This month we decided to combine our love of sloths with our love of Game of Thrones: Introducing the Game of Sloths!For this photo series SloCo graphic designer Cecilia Pamich has lovingly created a sloth version of all your favourite characters and their most famous quotes!

01 night king

It did take them 10 years to reach the wall…

02 jon slow

Of course!

03 Arya

… nor tomorrow!

04 Tyrion not easy

It takes a sloth 30 days to digest a single leaf – imagine eating lettuce all day and taking a month to digest it! Not so easy….

05 Not a quenn a kalazy

 

06 varys

If a sloth had a motto, this would be it!

07 jaime

 

08 slothraki

… and queen of the Seven Deadly Sins

09 Cersei

… or nap. Or swim surprisingly well!

 

10 slowdor

 

11 Tyrion thats what l do

 

12 chaos is a ladder

There are three-fingered sloths, two-fingered sloths and little-fingered sloths!

 

 

Sloth Education Outreach – YOU can help!

It is hugely important to us that the children who live alongside sloths – the children who will grow up to be responsible for future conservation efforts – know as much as possible about the wildlife that surrounds them, the challenges that sloths are facing and how they can help. We have a major education outreach event happening this month and we need YOUR help to make it happen! The education materials for one child to participate in our outreach program cost $5. Please consider donating by sponsoring a child: https://slothconservation.com/what-we-do/education-outreach/

“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.”

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Adopt a Sloth for Mother’s Day

Sloth fans in the United States – Mother’s Day is fast approaching! What better way to show your love and appreciation than by adopting a sloth in your mom’s name? We IMG_2564offer several different payment plans, and 100% of proceeds go directly towards funding our in-field sloth conservation efforts so it’s a double win!

Sloth babies fully rely on their moms to teach them how to survive in the canopy of the rainforest… just like your mom had to do when you were a baby (although hopefully with less time spent in a tree)! You can still get your virtual adoption package even if you order ON Mother’s Day, so don’t worry about being late.

See the sloths available for adoption by clicking here

You can help sloths today!

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

In celebration of Earth Day 2019, we have created a list of 7 simple things that you can do every day to help sloths – all from the comfort of your own home! One person at a time, one day at a time, and one project at a time, we all have the ability to make a serious difference that will leave a lasting impact on the world. Don’t ever underestimate the power that you have in your day-to-day actions! Here are some sloth-inspired ideas to get you started:

  • Choose your food carefully – The production and transport of food is very damaging to the environment, so eat locally grown food whenever possible!
  • Save your energy – turn off the lights, turn your computer off overnight, hang your clothes out to dry instead of using the drier, leave the car at home…. all of those little things that we do every day have a huge impact when we add them all up!download
  • Eat green – animal agriculture is the leading cause of rainforest destruction, so reducing your meat consumption is a great way to help! 
  • Go natural – say no to single use plastic! Did you know that every single piece of plastic ever created is still somewhere on our planet today… that adds up to the same weight as a billion elephants!
  • Plant a tree – this can be incredibly rewarding and you can make it into a fun activity! Over 48 football fields worth of trees are chopped down every single minute, and the only way to offset this damage is to replace the lost forests.DSC_7630 - Copy (2)
  • Talk to the children – educate children about the simple things they can do to reduce their impact. Empowering the next generation with the knowledge to make a difference will lead to positive outcomes for the planet!
  • Support the organisations who care – from your local business with eco friendly practices, to the conservation organisations that are globally working hard to protect nature. Do your research and donate to those organisations who will use your money to fund in-field conservation projects with documented (published!) results. If you aren’t in a position to donate, you could try to run annual fundraising events in your community, or simply spread the word about a particular cause! For birthdays and events try to buy gifts that give back, with proceeds going to support a non-profit working in conservation!

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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.

tracking

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.

scales

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.

c
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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