Helping sloths by going plastic-free: 11 daily items you can change today!

Helping sloths by going plastic-free: 11 daily items you can change today!

July is plastic-free month. It is an opportunity to reflect on how we can reduce our plastic consumption, which not only harms our marine and terrestrial ecosystems but threatens our health as well.

The good news is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! There are lots of helpful guides and websites filled with tips and plastic-free alternatives.

plastic-free sloths

So here are 11 daily items that you can exchange for plastic-free alternatives!

1) Plastic-free cigarettes

You have probably heard about plastic bags tragically making their way into marine ecosystems and filling the stomachs of sea turtles. However, the most littered item on Earth are cigarette butts which are the most frequently found item during beach clean ups.

The filters in cigarette butts can take up to 10 years to break down into smaller pieces (micro-plastics). As they break down they release nicotine and heavy metals into the environment.

Unfortunately, filters don’t improve lung health overall. There are some companies such as Greenbutts that manufacture biodegradable filters. However, even biodegradable filters will release their captured toxins upon breaking down.

So if you do smoke, you can reduce your daily use of plastic by opting for cigarettes without filters.

Cigarette butts end up in the digestive tracts of many kinds of wildlife/Source: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/24/health/dirty-truth-about-cigarette-filters/index.html

2) Plastic-free cotton swabs

Cotton swabs, cotton buds, Q-tips – they have a lot of names. Now even these single-use plastic products can be replaced by biodegradable alternatives!

plastic-free q

3) Plastic-free toothbrushes and toothpaste

Toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste are a recurrent sources of plastic pollution. Fortunately, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable toothpaste jars are great substitutes!

plastic-free tooth brush
Feeling crafty? You can make toothpaste from scratch yourself using activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and peppermint essential oil (just be sure not to store it in a metal container)

4) Plastic-free razors

Like toothbrushes, disposable razors are common daily items that lead to an accumulation of plastic waste overtime. Although razors with replaceable heads are better than entirely disposable ones, there are razors that are plastic-free altogether! Paired with the right shaving cream, these plastic-free razors not only reduce your environmental footprint but minimize irritation due to the harsh chemicals found in most shaving foams.

A plastic-free shaving experience is possible by going back to the tried and true methods of shaving/Source: Plastic Freedom

5) Plastic-free face and body scrubs

Exfoliating (i.e. gently scrubbing away dead skin cells) is a great way to maintain skin health. There are a variety of face and body scrubs on the market, but many of them unfortunately contain plastic microbeads to to aid in this process. These microplastics are too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants and therefore wind up in our oceans. Fortunately a number of companies have already switched to biodegradable alternatives or have pledged to remove plastic microbeads from their products.

There are a variety of recipes for face and body scrubs you can make at home.

6) Shampoo bars

Unfortunately many cosmetics, in addition to being packaged in plastic, are made from chemicals that threaten the health of humans and ecosystems alike. If you are concerned about the products you are currently using you can look up their safety status at the Environmental Working Groups’s Skin Deep database (or download their app!).

Moreover, many shampoos are designed to strip the natural oils from your hair and replace them with synthetic substitutes. Transitioning from conventional shampoo to using a shampoo bar can take a bit of patience but the results (and the health benefits) are well worth it!

plastic-free shampoo
“Transitioning to plastic-free shampoo bars was the easiest change I made” –Plastic Freedom

7) Plastic-free makeup

You don’t have to sacrifice the glamour by going plastic-free. Whether your daily routine consists of a bit of concealer or a full face of makeup, there are a lot of exciting plastic-free products that are also free from the harmful chemicals found in traditional makeup.

61% of popular lipstick brands were found to contain lead. Fortunately refillable makeup free from harmful chemicals is now available in many places/Source: Plastic Freedom

8) Plastic-free menstrual products

Menstrual cups and reusable period underwear solve a lot of problems. They drastically reduce plastic waste and water consumption and ensure that people suffering from period poverty, have a safe, long-term method to manage periods and avoid missing out on school.

Surprisingly, pads are composed of 90% plastic and the amount of plastic packaging used for tampons can be equally shocking. Menstrual cups drastically reduce plastic consumption, generating 99.6% less plastic waste than disposable pads and 94% less plastic waste created by tampons.

Even 100% cotton tampons can generate a significant environmental impact as cotton crops require impressive amounts of water.

There are lots of plastic-free menstrual products, from reusable pads, to period underwear to menstrual cups/ Source: https://www.treehuggerclothpads.com/?rfsn=1312907.28252

 

9) Refillable cleaning products

Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce plastic usage. However, companies such as Neat, have come up with an even better way to reduce plastic waste.

Many cleaning products are 90% water. Neat sells reusable spray bottles and offers concentrated refills in glass bottles that can be recycled.

10) Plastic-free sandwich wraps

Whether or not you are a sandwich eater, these food wraps can be used for a variety of food items. You can even make reusable food wraps at home by choosing a bit of your favorite cloth and melting on some beeswax!

Try to avoid products made by bees? These vegan food wraps are made from wax that would otherwise be disposed of during food processing.

11) Reusable tote bags

Single-use plastic bags are infamous for their uncanny ability to end up in the most unexpected places. Even places as remote as Mount Everest are struggling with pollution due to single-use plastics!

If you want to reduce your plastic consumption whilst supporting sloth conservation you can treat yourself to a reusable sloth tote (now 30% off for Plastic Free July)!

organic cotton tote bag
All the purchases from our Sloth Shop go towards sloth conservation!

 

-Katra Laidlaw

How sloths and people benefit from a plastic-free future

How sloths and people benefit from a plastic-free future

You may have heard of or remember a time when milk was delivered in glass bottles to your doorstep. In the span of a lifetime (80 years), we have gone from reusing and repairing most of our possessions to one where disposable products are the norm.

plastic-free life
Milkman truck from the 1940s/Source: https://historydaily.org/vintage-photos-milkmen-throughout-history

 

plastic-free life
Our grandparents’ generation lived a -mostly- plastic-free life. Leading brands such as Coca-Cola are still reluctant to go plastic-free./ Photo: oldphotoguy.com

The origins of modern garbage

This shift occurred for a variety of reasons: a coalescing of forces that led to a boom in consumerism post WWII and a desire on the part of businesses to harness this sudden rise in consumption to maximize profit.

The strategy that they devised was an unobvious one. In a pivotal moment at a plastics industry conference in 1956, a speaker looked out on the crowd and said, “your future is in the garbage wagon.” Instead of creating products that would last, the speaker proposed that they needed to create products that were intended to be thrown away.

It was a brilliant tactic. If they could simply get people to throw things away, then they would come back to buy more.

People had to be taught to throw things away. There were a variety of education campaigns at the time explaining to consumers how to throw things away and manage their garbage.

Learn more about the social and political history of garbage in the U.S./Source of image: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vintage-ads-plastic_n_5cdb1768e4b01e9bd3540ffa

 

How We Created a Throwaway Society

The unknown future of plastics

Although plastics in the ocean break down much faster than we expected , no one is sure how long plastic will persist in our ecosystems, due to their tendency to break up into smaller pieces.

The study of plastics and their effect on the environment has largely been focused on marine ecosystems (due to the visibility of plastic in the ocean and its dramatic implications for marine and human life). Only as recently as 2012 have we begun to evaluate the effect of plastics on soil and plants.

plastic-free oceans
As plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, they are eaten by marine life, entering the food chain and threatening the health of marine animals and humans alike./Infographic: WWF

Our understanding is still a theoretical one. As plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, the likelihood that they can leach harmful chemicals into the environment increases.

Phytoremediation is the deliberate use of specific plant species to remove, stabilize or break down contaminants in the soil. Given that plants have the ability to absorb harmful compounds in the soil, such as arsenic, it likely that they also have the capacity to absorb nanoplastics in the soil.

A recent review of research on the effect of plastics on terrestrial ecosystems concluded that, “At present, we know next to nothing about the effects of this factor of global change on plants.

An overview of pollutants and their potential for phytoremediation/ Source: Kate Kennan and Niall Kirkwood’s book PHYTO: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design

 

Eliminating plastic safeguards the health of ecosystems and humans alike

Among the harmful chemicals that plastics are known to release are endocrine disruptors, a class of chemicals which mimic our human hormones, such as estrogen, resulting in a variety of health consequences for humans and other animals. As plastics break down in the ocean, they also release a variety of chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) which threaten the lives of marine animals and the people that eat them. Unfortunately, even low doses of these chemicals can cause adverse health effects, such as cancer.

Banning single-use plastics: A case study in Kenya

In addition to the changes that can be made on the scale of the consumer, many cities and countries have banned the use of single-use plastic. Notably, in 2017, the entire country of Kenya banned single-use plastic bags. Prior to the ban waterways clogged with plastic would often lead to floods. Since the ban of plastic bags, there has been a notable reduction in the amount of plastic in the streets and common areas that once had plastic waste piled as high as a person.

plastic-free cow
In urban areas in Kenya as much as 50% of cows had plastic bags in their stomachs/Photo: BBC

How sloths benefit from a plastic-free future

It is likely that sloths benefit from less plastic pollution in their environment. However, plastics pose the greatest threat to sloths and humans alike by generating profits for the fossil fuel industry and thus fueling our climate crisis. Plastics are derived from fossil fuels, such as crude oil. As our consumption of plastic rises, it is quickly becoming the primary driver of oil demand globally.

Sloths have survived on earth for almost 64 million years. Their winning strategies: moving slowly and saving energy. In order to save energy, they have lost the ability to regulate their body temperature. Their internal body temperature depends on the environment and can change by 10 ◦C over the course of a day. 

Sloths have two layers of fur that help them to maintain their body temperature. / Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

If it becomes too cold for sloths, the essential microbes in their gut can die and they can starve to death on a full stomach. Curiously, when temperatures become too high, the metabolism of sloths begins to decrease.

Sloths are particularly vulnerable to the increased variation in temperatures in tropical countries due to climate change. Because they lack the ability to regulate their internal body temperatures, they heavily depend upon the temperature of the environment.

Reducing our plastic consumption individually and collectively reduces our exposure to harmful chemicals while combating climate change. Moreover, reducing our consumption of plastic helps to safeguard the future of the vulnerable: sloths and people alike.

plastic
Sloths and other types of wildlife appreciate a plastic-free future! / Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

A plastic free-future

It may be disheartening to realize that the immense amount of plastic pollution that we and our ecosystems face today stemmed from a deliberate plan to maximize profits.

However, if we learned how to throw things away, we can learn how to reuse them again.

Eliminating plastic from your life may seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch. Organizations such as Plastic Freedom, with their line of plastic-free products, are dedicated to bringing about a future without plastic.

They offer plastic-free alternatives ranging from toothpaste to dental floss to razors. There is a good chance that the item you are looking for comes in a refillable version free from plastic.

Moreover, for every order they receive, they plant a tree somewhere in the world. These trees help to restore habitat and replenish the natural resources that we depend upon.

Plastic-free alternatives prevent exposure to health-threatening chemicals while reducing your ecological footprint. Even in the context of our global pandemic, fabric masks can be safely used as an alternative to disposable ones.

plastic-free shop
Some big brand shops have begun taking steps to strip their shelves of plastic wrapping. / Photo: phys.org

What ideas do you have to reduce your use of plastics in your life? Every small action counts!

Katra Laidlaw

Sloths and Cacao: You can have your chocolate cake and eat it too

Sloths and cacao: You can have your chocolate cake and eat it too

There comes a point in childhood when we begin to understand the concept of finite resources. The oft-used phrase, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” captures the idea that we often have to choose between the things that we love.

However, if you love sloths AND chocolate, you might not have to make that painful choice between enjoying chocolate cake and enjoying the presence of sloths in the wild.

CHOCOLATE

Where chocolate comes from

Chocolate comes from a medium-sized tree that grows in the understory of tropical forests. Growing directly from the bark of the cacao tree are large colorful pods, that are filled with seeds covered in a thin layer of sweet, fruity pulp. Once mature, the seeds are harvested, fermented, roasted and ground to make chocolate. Traditionally chocolate was drank unsweetened and has deep cultural and spiritual significance for many indigenous communities.

cacao chocolate
Cacao trees heavily rely on small flying insects called midges to pollinate their flowers.

 

cacao chocolate
Inside the pods is this sweet sour pulp and the cacao beans

 

cacao beans
Your chocolate comes from these beans!

The origins of cacao

Because cacao grows best in the shade of other trees they are often found in agroforestry systems. Agroforestry systems consist of food crops growing underneath a forest canopy and have been cultivated by indigenous communities for thousands of years.

The Amazon rainforest, once thought be a wild and untamed place, has actually been profoundly shaped by 8000 years of indigenous agroforestry. Although the exact origins of cacao are debated, some of the earliest evidence of cacao in pre-Colombian societies was over 5000 years ago in South America.

chocolate
The traditional way BriBri people grind the cacao beans

How chocolate benefits sloths and people

You may be accustomed to hearing how many food crops, from palm plantations to pineapples, threaten wildlife in tropical ecosystems. Large monocultures inundated with pesticides and herbicides threaten the health of humans and wildlife alike while reducing and fragmenting the habitat that remains.

Not all chocolate is produced in a way that is beneficial to wildlife and the communities they live in. However, when chocolate is produced in a way that makes space for wildlife while empowering local people, it is a truly sweet combination.

Agroforestry practices are a powerful way to maintain biodiversity primarily because, unlike most conventional agriculture, the cultivation of crops does not lead to the elimination of the forest canopy. In fact, many agroforestry systems actively promote biodiversity and soil health by maintaining a comparable level of plant diversity as found in the adjacent forest.

A diverse agroforestry system has the impressive ability of providing food for wildlife and people alike. Several studies have highlighted that cacao agroforestry systems play an important role in providing habitat for sloths and other wildlife. Two and three-fingered sloths have been observed living in cacao agroforestry systems.

caao crops
Agroforestry system: How many species of trees can you count in this picture?

Sloths eat cacao too

Sloths have even been known to eat cacao leaves and pods. Fortunately sloths do not pose a threat to the cacao trees because they eat very few leaves on a daily basis (it takes them 30 days to digest a single leaf)!

 

sloths chocolate
Sloths like cacao too!

 

Threats to cacao

One of the most potent threats to cacao in its recent history has been due to a fungal disease known as monilia. The fungi that cause this disease raged untamed for many years causing farmers to lose up to 80% of their cacao and eventually abandon their farms.

Monilia arrived in Costa Rica in the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) started developing resistant strains of cacao that are used on many farms today.

One of CATIE’s resistant strains of cacao/Source: https://ticotimes.net/2014/01/27/costa-ricas-chocolate-comeback

In addition to monilia, one of the main threats to cacao today is the shift that small farmers of Costa Rica are concerned about. The abandoning of small-scale farming in exchange for industrial-scale farming and a growing disinterest in the next generation.

After monilia swept through the region, many cacao farms were abandoned. However, thanks to the resistant strains and the hard work of farmers, cooperatives and scientists, chocolate in the region may not have a bitter future after all.

Finca La Cabra Feliz (The Happy Goat Farm)

Finca La Cabra Feliz (The Happy Goat Farm) is an agroforestry farm just north of Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica. We had the pleasure of visiting Don Roberto Selina’s certified organic, Fair Trade, and Bandera Azul accredited farm which is home to a great variety of fruiting trees and wildlife (and happy goats of course)! 

cacao farm chocolate costa rica
Several three-fingered sloths live near the river that runs through the property.

In addition to producing chocolate, fresh goat milk, and a diversity of tropical fruits, Don Roberto Selina has a tree nursery of his own, planting endangered trees such as the Cola de Pavo (Turkey’s tail tree) (Hymenolobium mesoamericanum).

Don Roberto Selinas’s farm is an invaluable resource for the ecological and local community. He believes in sharing. The fruit growing on the trees is plentiful enough to be shared with wildlife and he teaches agroecology to local students and visitors that come to the farm.

“Tiene que sembrar para cosechar” (In order to harvest you have to plant) – Don Roberto

Coopecacao Afro

La Cabra Feliz was brought to our attention because it is one of the model farms that is part of a local cacao cooperativeCoopecacao Afro, which unites and supports Afro-Caribbean communities. At the helm is Don Edgar Campbell, a respected community member, teacher and thought leader.

Central to Coopecacao Afro’s mission is the understanding and appreciation of natural systems, actively cultivating and making space for the biodiversity that sustains us. They remember the time when the river was full of fish that could sustain families (before the arrival of banana plantations). They speak of a striking a green and black bird that was a staple of life in the Caribbean which can no longer be found.

CoopeCacao Afro and many other farmers are concerned by the loss of biodiversity and the transition away from ways of life that are more in harmony with the natural world. They aim to preserve the cacao agroforestry systems that remain while educating the next generation, strengthening communities and ensuring a future for these valuable communal resources.

How can you get involved?

If you are interested in purchasing chocolate that is wildlife-friendly and empowering to communities, look for Fair Trade, shade-grown cacao. Be on the lookout for ingredients such as palm oil which threaten a variety of wildlife from critically endangered orangutans to grey-capped central american squirrel monkey in Costa Rica.

If you have the chance of visiting or living in a country where cacao is grown, engaging in agro-tourism that supports small farms such as Don Roberto Selinas is a wonderful way to learn firsthand about the how cacao is grown and processed (and of course you can buy these delicious products directly from the farmer!).

We at SloCo are developing a sloth-friendly chocolate program, designed to benefit sloths and the communities they reside in. Due to the ongoing pandemic and social distancing measures, some of our community-based programs have been put on pause. As soon as it is safe to do so, we will be launching this program, so stay tuned!

Katra Laidlaw

Sloth starts using a wildlife bridge in record time

Sloth starts using a wildlife bridge in record time

This video of a three-fingered sloth using a wildlife bridge is the exciting result of the coordinated efforts of many people.  We installed a Sloth Crossing for her and she started using it in record time (less than a month!). You might think that a month is still quite a long time, but given that it takes 30 days for a sloth to digest a single leaf, this is quite a fast turn around!

 

We install Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges like this as part of our Connected Gardens program. These rope bridges connect trees on private properties, ensuring that sloths and other wildlife can safely access these important resources (without having to travel on the ground).

 

Helping a three-fingered sloth safely reach her favorite trees

This three-fingered sloth is a beloved resident of Annanci Village, a retreat for families visiting the South Caribbean. She spends much of her time nestled among the epiphytes and vines growing on a massive tree. Although the tree is no longer alive, it is covered by plants living on its branches, a perfect place for her to rest and remain hidden.

 

Her favorite tree to rest (if you look carefully in the second photo you can see her climbing up the trunk)/Photos: Katra Laidlaw

 

The owners of the property noticed that she frequently would come down from the tree and cross on the ground in order to access a Cecropia tree, a favorite food of sloths and monkeys alike.

 

wildlife bridge sloth crossing
Her daily commute from her favorite tree to rest (far left) to her favorite Cecropia tree to eat (far right)/Photo: Katra Laidlaw

 

Fortunately, there isn’t a dog living on the property that could attack her. However, crossing on the ground is a difficult and laborious process for sloths due to their unique and specialized muscle structure. She is also much more vulnerable to predators on the ground than suspended in the tree canopy.

 

wildlife bridge at south caribbean
Before the bridge was installed, she would cross on the path, often getting crowded by tourists staying on the property/Photo: Katra Laidlaw

 

 

Bridging the gap

The owners of the property reached out to Patricio Silfeni (Pato), our Connected Gardens manager, and asked if we could install a rope bridge to connect her two favorite trees.

Thanks to our talented tree climber, Gallo Adolfo, we were able to quickly install a Sloth Crossing to bridge the gap.

Installation of an aerial wildlife bridge
Our talented tree climber, Gallo, installing a sloth crossing/Photo: Patricio Silfeni

Creatures of habit

Sloths are habitual creatures. Once they have established a routine, they will follow the same route to the same trees. Sloths will spend their first year of life clutching to their mother’s chest, tasting the leaves that she eats, and learning her habits. Once they become independent, it is actually the mother that will find another home range, leaving her offspring to remain in the place where they were born.

Because they are such creatures of habit, it can be difficult to get sloths to modify their behavior.

 

An exciting discovery!

Foforo (Yorjes Salazar Elizondo), the manager of Annanci Village, was attending to some clients when he noticed that the sloth was using the rope bridge to reach the cecropia tree!

He ran to get his camera and was able to capture these wonderful photos of her using the bridge! Now she doesn’t have to cross on the ground, giving her easy access to her two favorite trees!

 

sloth on a wildlife bridge
Photos and cover image provided by Foforo (Yorjes Salazar Elizondo)

 

Bobby’s wildlife bridge: how sloth crossings help other species

At Faith Glamping, a unique camping experience for those visiting the South Caribbean, another dangerous situation for wildlife emerged. The owners noticed that a troop of howler monkeys would frequently visit the property, and in order to get across a gap in the trees, they would have to jump.

One time, when a mother howler monkey was jumping across this gap, her baby fell and hit the stump of a tree below, dying upon impact. The owners of the property were heartbroken and named this fallen monkey Bobby. We built a triangle of three rope bridges to connect this valuable tree to others on the property and the owners named the bridge where he fell, Bobby’s bridge.

Bobby’s bridge at Faith Glamping/Photos: Gallo Adolfo, Patricio Silfeni

How wildlife bridges help ecosystems

Bridges like these help wildlife and ecosystems in a variety of ways. They mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation (when a habitat is divided into smaller, isolated pieces). When trees are removed to make way for properties and roads, parts of the habitat can become difficult, dangerous or impossible for wildlife to access. Tropical and temperate forest ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the effects of habitat fragmentation.

Map of habitat fragmentation due to roads in Costa Rica: protected areas (dark green), biological corridors (light green) and the national highway system (grey)/Photo: Panthera

 

Imagine if a deep canyon with a raging river at the bottom was created in front of your favorite place to get food. Although you might be motivated enough to hike down and up a canyon and brave the rapids in order to get to your favorite place, it may deter you enough that you may not return. Even if you do manage to reach your favorite spot, you will have risked your safety or exerted much more energy than you did before the obstacle was in place.

 

Sloth road wildlife bridge
Caption: Crossing on the ground is dangerous and difficult for sloths./ Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

How rope bridges reduce the risk of extinction

Rope bridges not only allow for wildlife to safely and more easily access parts of their habitat, they also allow for gene flow – allowing individuals to reproduce with other individuals that they might not have been able to reach before. This allows for more genetic diversity, making the population more resilient to change and reducing the chance of the species becoming extinct.

In the video below, a male three-fingered sloth crossed a road using a rope bridge to reach a female calling to him on the other side (Video: Katra Laidlaw).

 

It takes a village

Thanks to the coordinated efforts of our generous donors, concerned community members and the SloCo team, many species are now able to safely navigate the habitat that we share with them. Thank you to Animalia, Jennifer, Adam and April for sponsoring Sloth Crossing bridges at Annanci Village and for helping to keep this sloth (and other wildlife) on the property safe.

Coexisting with wildlife can be a mutually beneficial experience. It requires just a bit of compromise from both sides. Willingness on our part to consider how we can modify our shared landscape and behavior in ways that are more accommodating to wildlife, and willingness on their part to adapt to the changes we have made for them.

The good news is that if it is possible for an incredibly habitual creature, like a sloth, to change her ways, it is certainly possible for us to adjust ours.

This map shows all of the places that we have installed Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges (blue) and planted trees through our reforestation efforts (green) thus far (since February 2019).

 

Would you like to sponsor your own Sloth Crossing?

Each “Sloth Crossing” bridge costs $200 to construct (in the most basic form: a single rope design without a camera trap). If you would like to help us to build more bridges (or personally sponsor your own sloth crossing), you can do so using the links below. If you sponsor a Sloth Crossing then we will install a personalized wooden plaque next to the bridge engraved with a name of your choice (this would make a fantastic gift for any sloth lover)! For gift sponsorships we can also email an information pack as well as photos and a GPS location of the fished bridge and plaque after installation on request (just send us an email after your donation)!

 

-Katra Laidlaw

Sloth Crossings Manager

Helping Sloths By Helping Dogs

Saving sloths by sterilizing dogs

What do these two have in common?

Cute baby sloth and dog puppy

 

You might find them both featured in baby animal calendars or filling the feeds of animal aficionados. But the lives of these two animals are entangled not just because of their comparable cuteness.

When their bite is worse than their bark

200 different species of wild animals are now threatened by dogs and at least 11 are now extinct because of  our canine companions. After cats and rats, domestic dogs have become the third-most-damaging mammals – and yet this fact has received almost no media attention. Domestic dogs include feral and free-ranging animals, as well as those that are cared for by humans as pets.

Predation is the biggest threat posed by domestic dogs to wildlife, followed by the transmission of diseases, competition, and hybridization. The regions most affected by these issues are South-East Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and Australia.

dog attacking wildlife
Unleashed pets often disturb wildlife through chasing or harassment.  Photo: Pitam Chattopadhyay

A big problem for sloths

Dog attacks are now the second leading cause of death to sloths in Costa Rica. The Jaguar Rescue Center, located in the Limon province, receives 2 to 3 wild animals per week that have been injured by dogs or cats.

The chances of a sloth encountering a dog are high due to the sheer number of dogs roaming around and the fact that human development is breaking up the sloths habitat. Since sloths can’t jump, they often resort to crawling on the ground to travel between trees in urban areas. A sloth on the ground has no way to defend itself against a dog. If the sloth somehow survives the initial attack, secondary infections from the bite wounds often prove to be fatal.

sloth attacked by dog
A stray dog with a sloth in Puerto Viejo / Photo: Torey McCarter, Jaguar Rescue Center

Myths about sterilization make things harder

Incorrect beliefs about the castration and sterilization of animals, coupled with irresponsible ownership and abandonment, has lead to a large number of stray and feral dogs roaming the streets.

This is a bad scenario as a single female can produce 4 to 5 puppies per litter, twice a year.  A lot of people think that all dogs should have puppies because “it makes them happy” or “if they don’t experience motherhood they’ll be sad”. Other pet owners don’t want to sterilize their male dogs because this might “affect the dog’s virility”, despite the proven benefits of neutering them.

stray female dog with puppies
Fun fact: Did you know a method to neuter dogs without surgery was recently developed?

Oh My Dog!

The ‘Oh My Dog’ project is a new initiative that we launched in 2019 which aims to reduce the number of dog attacks on wildlife in Costa Rica. This project has a three-pronged approach:

  1. Reduce the need for arboreal animals to travel on the ground. We achieve this by planting trees in target areas and installing wildlife canopy bridges to connect habitat fragments. We work with private property owners who’s dogs have been known to attack wildlife in the garden, as well as with the government of Costa Rica to make urban areas safer for sloths.
  2. Reduce the number of dogs roaming around unsupervised. We have partnered with local rescue organisations (Puerto Viejo Dogs and Clinica veterinaria Drs Arroyo & Solano) to fund the sterilization of all stray dogs in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica.
  3. Community awareness to encourage responsible dog ownership. We have developed a set of guidelines that community members can follow to reduce the chances of pet dogs attacking wildlife.

oh my dog

One billion dogs worldwide

In a world where humans and their pets reach every corner of the planet, achieving harmonious coexistence with nature is a fundamental task for conservation.

So, if you love sloths and you love dogs, please consider helping us with this campaign. It’s a win-win for dogs and sloths!

dog at the beach
A rescued and safely sterilized dog by ‘Puerto Viejo Dogs’

Eating Green to Save Sloths: Why Your Diet Matters

Why your diet matters

Have you ever considered that what you choose to eat each day has a direct impact on the welfare and survival of sloths in the wild? By changing your diet, every single day you could save:

  • 30 sq. ft. of rainforest from being chopped down
  • 1,100 gallons of water
  • 45 lbs of grain
  • and 20 lbs of CO2

…just by changing the food that you eat!

It might come as a surprise that animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction. That includes clearing land for both cattle grazing and to make space for the vast crop plantations for livestock feed. Furthermore, livestock and their by-products are accountable for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – in comparison, the entire transport sector (including cars, airplanes, and boats) account for just 13%. We have all heard about the terrible effect that the palm oil industry is having on the Indonesian rainforest – but animal agriculture is shockingly responsible for 5 times the amount of deforestation when compared to palm oil (26 million rainforest acres: 136 million rainforest acres).

There is no question that the current levels of meat and dairy consumption all over the world are completely unsustainable. As a population, we simply cannot continue in the way that we are doing. But what is the solution? Are we all supposed to go completely vegan? And is that option sustainable in itself? I guess this is down to personal preference. We know that going vegan is very hard for a lot – if not most – people, and perhaps it isn’t even necessary. What if we all just make an effort to reduce the amount of meat that we eat on a weekly basis? Start off with ‘Meatless Mondays‘ and start to experiment with plant-based meals.  Why not start today with our sloth inspired salad – you can find all of the details below!

 

 

Sloth-inspired salad

Sloths are really the ultimate vegans, surviving on a natural diet of leaves, flowers, fruits and shoots in the wild! To celebrate our leaf-eating friends, we have teamed up with Argentinian cook Andres Pacheco to develop the worlds first salad inspired by the diet of sloths!

 

For this salad we sourced all ingredients from a local farmers market here in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Obviously all of the products here have been grown locally and so you might not find the exact same versions in your local grocery store or garden. However, each ingredient is easily replaceable with a simple alternative that you should be able to find without too much trouble. You will need:

Main ingredients:

  • Leaves: lettuce, arugula, etc
  • Edible flowers
  • Avocado

Toppings: 

  • Cacao Nibs
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

Dressing:

  • Carrots
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil

#1. Leaves

letucce sloth diet

Sloths are ‘folivores’ which means that they survive on a diet of leaves in the wild. This is why leaves are the star of our sloth salad recipe! Butterhead, iceberg, loose-leaf, baby and romaine lettuce – there are a lot of different lettuce options! We chose a local variety of red and green-leaf with arugula, basil, Italian parsley, and cilantro.  You can add kale, spinach, endives, escarole – you can try as many combinations as you like!

#2. Edible flowers

sloth flowers

Sloths also love to eat flowers and buds, and so we can use these to add some sweetness and color to our salad! The buds that we used  are called ‘Loroco’ (they taste just like asparagus), Bungavilas and Hibiscus. Did you know that hibiscus flowers are often referred to as ‘sloth chocolate’ because sloths love to eat them so much? They also have loads of good health benefits so don’t hold back when adding these to your bowl! Lots of very common flowers that you can find in your garden are actually edible AND delicious (roses, violets, daisies….), just make sure you check each type before eating them!

#3. Avocado

avocado sloth

We all love avocado! This delicious, creamy tropical fruit tastes so good in sandwiches, smoothies (yes, you should try that too) and of course salads. We have to thank the extinct Giant Ground Sloths for the avocados in this recipe. The avocado is going to add some sweetness and a creamy consistency, especially if you choose more sour leaves like arugula.

#4. Cacao nibs

chocolate cacao sloths

We like chocolate… and sloths like chocolate too! Wild sloths are known to enjoy eating both the leaves and the pods from cacao trees. Cacao is also one of the best crops for maintaining the health of the ecosystem as it is a ‘shade grown’ crop. This means that it grows underneath the natural rainforest canopy and does not contribute to deforestation! For our sloth salad we chose to use raw cacao nibs as one of the toppings.

5- Almond and cashew nuts

almond sloths

One of the favourite trees of two-fingered sloths is the beach almond – they enjoy eating both the leaves and the almonds. They also like to use wild cashew trees in Costa Rica too! For this reason we have included both almond and cashew nuts as toppings for our sloth salad!

6 – Carrots

sloth carrot diet

Carrots do not grow in trees and so wild sloths do not eat these (of course). However, these root vegetables are widely enjoyed by sloths living in captivity all over the world – they are a unanimous favourite! We are using the carrots for our salad dressing. First, boil the carrots until soft. Once cold, use the blender to make a liquid sauce. Add salt, pepper and spice it up as you like!

The Final Sloth Salad Plate:

sloth salad

 

Sloths use a process of fermentation to digest the leaves inside their large, four-chambered stomachs, and so we recommend washing down your sloth salad with some sort of fermented beverage. Kombucha is a widely available favourite!

Bon Appetite!

8 Perfect Gifts For People Who Love Sloths

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

Look no further for sloth gift ideas – we have you covered! Our selection of sloth-themed Gifts that Give Back are available for international delivery and with proceeds going to support our sloth conservation efforts – it’s a double win.

1. Adopt-A-Sloth ($60 / £45)

adopt a sloth pack

We are offering ‘VIRTUAL‘ and ‘PHYSICAL‘ sloth adoption packages – perfect as a gift!

In exchange for a donation, we will send you a full personalised adoption goodie-bag either via email (virtual) or in the mail (physical)! Choose to adopt one of our 6 available sloths today 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 best-selling photography book: Sloths, Life in the Slow Lane (physical adoption packages only)

Click here to choose your sloth now!

 

2. SLOTHS 2020 wall calendar ($14.99 / £10.99)

best sloth calendar

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

Each month features spectacular imagery of wild sloths taken by world-renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas. Here she captures some of the most intimate and rarely seen moments between mom and baby, while showcasing five different species of sloth. These include the mysterious maned sloths, rarely seen pale-throated sloths and the infamous swimming pygmy sloths! Each month is accompanied by fascinating captions written by world sloth expert and SloCo founder Dr.Rebecca Cliffe which reveal some of the latest scientific discoveries and provide fascinating insights into the previously unknown habits of these unusual animals. For example, do you know how a sloth is able to fall asleep while hanging upside down? Or why sloths may hold the secret to curing cancer? 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

 

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

best sloth book

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

 

4. Sponsor a Sloth Crossing ($150 / £115)

SLOTH CROSSING

Without a natural or artificial canopy bridge the only way for a sloth to cross a road is by crawling, which takes a lot of time and energy and leaves them very vulnerable to traffic collisions, dog attacks and human exploitation. We are constructing specialized ‘sloth crossing’ canopy bridges to make it easier for sloths to safely travel across roads and between forest fragments in urban areas.

This donation will buy the raw materials needed to construct a full single-rope canopy bridge to help sloths travel safely. If you sponsor a Sloth Crossing then we will install a personalized wooden plaque next to the bridge engraved with a name of your choice (this would make a fantastic gift for any sloth lover)! For gift sponsorship’s we can also email an information pack as well as photos of the finished bridge and plaque after installation on request.

Click here to Sponsor a Sloth Crossing 

 

5. Sponsor sloth-friendly trees

plant sloth trees

By planting trees through our tropical habitat restoration program in Costa Rica, you can provide safe habitat for sloths, protect biodiversity and help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It’s a triple win!

You can make a custom donation to plant a particular number of trees, and we will choose tree species that are favoured by wild sloths for you! We will then plant them in key conservation areas where habitat loss is threatening the survival of sloths. All trees are grown in our SloCo forest nursery and are monitored to ensure survival. If a tree dies, it is replaced! If you sponsor some trees as a gift, we can send a gift certificate, information packet and photos of the trees on request (just send us an email after your purchase)!

Click here to plant some trees

6. Protect 20 square meters of primary rainforest for sloths ($50 / £38)

protect sloth habitat

Habitat loss from the destruction of trees is the greatest threat to the survival of sloths. We believe that the only immediate solution to prevent the rampant and ongoing urbanization of the rainforest is to strategically buy the land and shield the ecosystem from development. 100% of your donation will go towards purchasing and protecting threatened primary rainforest habitat in the South Caribbean region (Limón) of Costa Rica where sloth populations are suffering. If this is a gift, we can send a gift certificate and information packet on request (just send us an email after your purchase)!

Click here to protect the primary rainforest 

 

7. Sloth Activity Booklet ($15 / £12)

sloth book children

SloCo graphic designer Cecilia Pamich has lovingly created a series of sloth activity booklets which use fun facts, activities and puzzles to help children learn all about sloths and wildlife conservation. It is perfect for use with school groups, or just as a way to keep your child entertained for hours! We currently offer two versions of the booklet in both English and Spanish in exchange for a donation of $15. 100% of this donation will go towards supporting our sloth education outreach programs for indigenous children in Costa Rica.

Click here to download the booklet!

 

8. Sloth Apparel for everyone

sloth apparel merchandising

Here at SloCo we work with some fantastic partner companies who sell Eco-friendly sloth merchandise and donate a portion of all proceeds directly back to our sloth conservation efforts. If you are looking for a sloth t-shirt, hoodie, bag or print, look no further:

Big Wild Thought

These guys sell a whole range of stylish sloth goodies, from t-shirts to backpacks and sweatshirts to accessory bags! All packaging is made from recycled cardboard and acid-free tissue paper. ALL RECYCLABLE!

TeeMill

Sloth apparel in every shape, style and size – all designed in collaboration with us here at SloCo and proceeds go towards supporting our work. The best bit – they are all made from certified organic cotton, in renewable energy powered factories and every product is designed to be sent back to us for re-manufacturing instead of ending up in landfill!

Socks For Animals 

Sloth socks that are comfortable AND help to save sloths – a double win! We regularly wear these socks inside our jungle boots while tracking wild sloths through the rainforests of Costa Rica. Team sloth give them a double thumbs (toes?) up!

Sloth Toes

We love this company! Born in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica where our sloth conservation efforts are focused, they have a unique range of sloth themed merchandise that is massively popular with visitors. They sell almost everything with a sloth on it – from pillows to clothing and stickers to coffee cups!

Animalia

The guys at Animalia designed one of our all-time favourite sloth t-shirts in collaboration with Kelvin Peña known as Brother Nature. They are made of 100% recycled cotton and 5 recycled plastic water bottles each!

Animals Move

Wearing is Caring when you buy one of these sloth t-shirts! For each shirt purchased through Animals Move we will be able to construct 1 more meter of a Sloth Crossing canopy bridge.

 

Record-breaking bridges for sloths

Record-breaking bridges for sloths!

Thanks to the generous support of our donors we have managed to install THREE new Sloth Crossing canopy bridges in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica this month! These artificial wildlife bridges are essential to help sloths and other wildlife move safely between trees in urban areas. Without the bridges sloths are forced to travel on the electricity lines or on the ground, and here they frequently fall victim to electrocutions, dog attacks, car collisions and human exploitation.

 

The Biggest Bridge Ever

One of the new ‘Sloth Crossings’ installed this month broke all previous records. Installing this monstrosity took a full day of hard work, but the results were worth it. This area is an important route of passage for sloths and howler monkeys, however the forest has been recently disturbed and the animals are now struggling to cross the gaps between the trees. Just last week a troop of monkeys passed through this property and an observer noticed that the younger monkeys couldn’t jump far enough to make it across to the next tree. With dogs roaming around on the ground below, the juveniles had no choice but to wait behind while the adult monkeys moved on to feed.

 

Impassable gaps between trees, with dogs lurking on the ground below.

We knew we had to do something to help. To begin, we planted 20 fast-growing ‘guarumo’ trees underneath the canopy gaps. These trees are a favourite food source for both sloths and monkeys, and they will grow to be full height within about 5 years.Next we planted 30 more slow-growing tree species that are critical for a healthy rainforest. These saplings won’t reach full height for about 40 years, but we must plant the seeds now to ensure a healthy future.

 

planting sloth sangrillo tree
Planting ‘sangrillo’ trees – a favourite food for wild sloths and monkeys!

While planting trees is a vital step, it will not fix the canopy gap problem immediately and so we needed to install an artificial wildlife bridge to connect the trees on either side. Unfortunately the overall gap between forest fragments was ginormous, with only a few sparse trees dotted around the middle with zero connectivity between them. The resultant bridge was spectacular – it ended up being over 53 meters in length, linking together 6 different trees across 3 different properties and bypassing 1 set of power lines. We have installed camera traps to monitor which animals use the bridge and so hopefully we can share some interesting footage with you soon.

 

This photo is taken from one end of the bridge – you can see the blue rope looping through the next tree and away into the distance!
Installing the bridge took many hours, many sling-shot attempts and a very long rope!

Sponsor a sloth crossing canopy bridge

Each “sloth crossing” bridge costs $150 in raw materials to construct (in the most basic form: a single rope design without a camera trap). If you would like to help us to build more bridges you can do so here – don’t forget to select “sloth crossing” as your preference in the drop down menu! We also offer the option to Sponsor a Sloth Crossing (a fantastic gift idea for a sloth lover). If you choose this option then we will install a bridge with a personalised plaque that we will engrave with a name of your choice!

Sloth Problems (and how to solve them)

Sloth Problems (and how to solve them)

On October 20th we celebrate International Sloth Day, but this year we decided to launch #SlothWeek – 7 whole days dedicated to the worlds slowest mammal and raising awareness of the problems they face every day. Here we detail the 7 biggest threats to wild sloth populations and explain what we are doing to help. In all cases, the best approach is through the development of long-term conservation solutions that provide sustainable ways for sloths to coexist with the people sharing their habitat. We have developed a range of community-based programs that help us to achieve this mission.

All of the sloth conservation work that we do is only possible thanks to the generosity of our friends, donors and sponsors.

#1

Kicking things off with the number 1 threat to wild sloth populations in Costa Rica – habitat loss. Sloths rely on a continuous rainforest canopy for survival as they are physically unable to traverse big gaps between trees. As humans encroach further and further into the rainforest, more trees are cut down and the forest is fragmented which leaves the sloths very vulnerable. We are already seeing the negative impacts of habitat loss in Costa Rica, with sloth numbers falling in the wild and genetic abnormalities spreading throughout populations. We are working hard to help sloths in disturbed areas by restoring and protecting critical sloth habitats. This includes reforestation (with tree species favored by sloths), the creation of biological corridors and protected forest reserves. One of our biggest goals is to protect and shield the remaining sloth habitat in the South Caribbean region from development through strategic land purchases. We have launched the “Save an Acre” campaign to help us in this mission. Read more about how we are fighting to save sloth habitats and see how you can help

#2

electrocution sloths

It is difficult to sugarcoat this topic, but it is important for us to talk about it to raise awareness and work towards a solution for the sloths. There are more than 3000 wildlife electrocutions every single year in Costa Rica, over half of the electrocuted animals are sloths, and the survival rate following an electrocution is only about 25%. If the sloth somehow survives beyond the initial electrocution, the rehabilitation process usually involves the amputation of limbs which leaves the individual unable to return to the wild. We have to work together to stop this from happening, which is why we are raising funds to insulate power lines and electrical transformers.

#3

genetic deformities slothsThis problem is one that we urgently need to understand before we can develop a solution. Sloths in Costa Rica (particularly on the Caribbean coast) are frequently being born with birth defects and genetic abnormalities. These include missing fingers/toes, malformed ears, misshapen limbs and partial or full albinism. High numbers of birth defects like this in any population are a warning sign that something is seriously wrong. We suspect that the deformities are the direct result of either extensive habitat fragmentation, or the excessive use of pesticides for agriculture. However, before we can develop any targeted conservation strategies, we have to identify and fully understand the root cause of the problem – and that means completing the necessary genetic research. We have been working hard on this project for many years, and our first scientific paper on sloth genetics is almost ready for publication. Today we want to say THANK YOU to all of our supporters who made this work possible!

#4

When the forest is disturbed and trees are cut down, sloths are forced to risk their lives by travelling on the ground or by using the electricity lines. Sloths should be the most abundant large mammals in a healthy tropical rainforest, however they are now considered to be a conservation concern in Costa Rica because numbers are falling rapidly. We are trying to mitigate these problems by protecting and restoring habitat connectivity in urban areas. This involves:

  • Planting trees
  • Building artificial wildlife bridges to help sloths navigate urban areas safely
  • Working with property developers to conduct free ‘sustainable development’ surveys – making sure that all new development projects are done in a way which causes minimal damage to the environment and to the native wildlife!
    Find out more and see how you can help to save a sloth today through our Connected Gardens Project

#5

roadkills sloths

Without a natural or artificial canopy bridge the only way for a sloth to cross a road is by crawling, which takes a lot of time and energy and leaves them very vulnerable to traffic collisions, dog attacks and human disturbance. We have identified the key areas along the South Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where sloths regularly cross the road and we are currently constructing specialized ‘sloth crossing’ canopy bridges to connect the trees on either side. We are also constructing Sloth Crossing bridges within and between private properties in urban areas. For all of our Sloth Crossing installations we like to monitor what animals use the bridges by using camera trap technology. Find out more about this project and see how you can sponsor a sloth crossing for yourself or as a gift for a loved one!

#6

sloth selfies

Sloths are the number 1 victim of the ‘wildlife selfie trade’ – they are taken from the wild in huge numbers to be sold for photo / interaction experiences. Being handled by strangers causes huge stress and anxiety for wild sloths, and most die within 3-6 months of being held captive. We are raising awareness of these issues by establishing permanent signage in high tourist areas to promote responsible “sloth tourism”, and to educate people on what they should do if they see a sloth being offered for holding or photo opportunities (call the authorities or a local rescue center). We also work with local hotels, businesses and restaurants, particularly those with sloths frequenting their property, and provide information leaflets to help educate guests about the problems that sloths are facing. We work with local children through our education outreach programs to encourage the protection rather than the exploitation of wildlife, and we coordinate international online campaigns to combat the ‘wildlife selfie’ and illegal pet trade markets.

#7

We love dogs, but domestic and stray dog attacks are now the second leading cause of death for wild sloths in Costa Rica. Sloths are not equipped to defend themselves against these attacks because dogs should not be a problem for an animal that lives high up in the trees! However, rapid development of the sloths habitat means that the connectivity between neighboring trees is being lost and the sloths are being forced to travel around on the ground where they are vulnerable. We are working with a local dog shelter to fund the spaying / neutering of rescued dogs. The goal is to decrease the number of stray dogs in the South Caribbean. We are also coordinating responsible pet ownership campaigns and building  ‘sloth crossing’ wildlife bridges in urban areas in Costa Rica to keep sloths safely off the ground!

 

If you want to know how you can help sloths from the comfort of your own home, we have complied a list of 7 simple things that you can do every day to help sloths! 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!

Planting 100 trees in a morning

A family comes together to plant 100 trees

Last week chief sloth botanist and director of the Connected Gardens Project met with a local family at their beautiful property in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica to plant 100 trees. This family are originally from the busy and cosmopolitan city of Santiago in Chile, but they made the decision to relocate to Costa Rica about 3 years ago.

Their decision to move was driven by a desire to escape from a noisy city and to be in better contact with nature. As it turns out, in Costa Rica you can wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys howling, toucans singing, and perhaps even a sloth hanging outside your window!

This particular family contacted us here at The Sloth Conservation Foundation because they were interested in participating in our urban reforestation program When they originally bought their property it was already largely cleared of trees. This is good for construction because you have plenty space to build your house, but of course it is a disaster for the local wildlife.

Three people next to a car with trees
Damian and his parents, Denise and Rony, transporting some trees.

 

Losing touch with wildlife

In recent years, the once continuous forest canopy in this area has been fragmented into little pockets. Due to the pressures of urbanization and development, a lot of trees have been cut down and tree-dwelling animals like sloths are now forced to travel on the ground (or even worse – on the power lines). Both options are very dangerous: power line electrocutions, dog attacks and road traffic collisions are now the leading causes of death for sloths in Costa Rica.

dog with a sloth
A dog carrying a sloth in Playa Chiquita/ Photo: JRC

The aim of our Connected Gardens Project is to reforest urban areas and bring back the canopy connectivity for wildlife by planting trees and installing artificial canopy bridges. Currently we have connected over 20 properties in the regions of Hone Creek, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo in the Limon province of Costa Rica.  And this is just the beginning: our goal for 2020 is to plant 5000+ sloth-friendly trees!

Some of the treelings ready to be planted!
Some of the saplings ready to graduate from the SloCo forest nursery and be planted!

 

Safety First

In Costa Rica the rainforest canopy can reach 30-40 meters in height – trees in the jungle can grow VERY tall. When trees this tall begin to die, they can fall easily and cause property damage, injuries or even fatalities. Sadly there were some magnificently large trees that were starting to show signs of death on the families property. “We had no other choice but to chop them down” they explained.

fallen tree destroy house
Unfortunately, to prevent disasters like this, people have to remove big branches and unsafe trees from their properties/ Photo: La Nación

 

An important tree for the neighborhood

Unfortunately the trees that the family removed were important for the movement of wildlife in the area – in particular for a family of Howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). The troop of monkeys in question are famous in the local area: one of their alpha members is a female called Conga that was rescued as an orphan and raised by the Jaguar Rescue CenterAfter Conga’s release 7 years ago she joined this troop of wild monkeys and so far has raised 6 babies of her own.

monkey with baby
Conga with one of her babies.  /Photo JRC

Once a month, Conga and her troop pass through the families property, but without the trees they are now forced to travel on the ground. Thankfully the family don’t own dogs or cats: “we love them – we used to have pets in Santiago – but here we understand that our pets can be a big threat to wildlife”. If they had a dog, it is likely that a member of Conga’s family would have been killed already.

The property is also close to an important patch of forest: the family have confirmed the presence of boas, toucans, both species of Costa Rican sloth, squirrels, kinkajous, opossums and many different species of tropical birds. “We also noticed that after we removed the old trees, the presence of wildlife has diminished” the family explained.  We decided that they were the perfect candidates for the Connected Gardens Project.

A single rope Sloth Crossing wildlife bridge
Although reforestation is the main goal of the project, artificial rope bridges like this can help to mitigate the problem for wildlife until the trees grow tall enough.

 

Planting Sangrillos for monkeys, Cecropia for sloths and Almonds for macaws

The primary species of tree chosen to fill the gap on this property were ‘Sangrillos’. The Sangrillo (Pterocarpus officinalis) is an important native tree that can reach over 30 meters in height and is well known for its red sap. When the tree is cut, it looks like it is bleeding – hence the name Sangrillo which is Spanish for “blood”. Sangrillo trees have medicinal properties: the sap is used to treat wounds and they are very important for sloths because they rely on the leaves for food.

Other important species of tree that we planted on the property include Guarumo (Cecropia spp) –  a fast growing tree that is essential for the diet of three-fingered sloths and the Mountain Almond (Dipterix panamensis) – vital for the development of the Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus). These magnificent birds are sadly highly endangered due loss of habitat and the illegal pet trade.

seeds
Mountain Almond seeds waiting to sprout at the SloCo forest nursery

 

Helping two endangered species at once

The Mountain Almond tree is also an endangered species itself due logging: the timber is very strong and it is widely used for the construction of houses.  The loss of this species is directly related to the struggling Great Green Macaw: the birds depend on this tree for food and nesting.

For our Connected Gardens Project in the South Caribbean region, the Mountain Almond is a fundamental tree to include: the Great Green Macaw was once considered extinct in in this area of Costa Rica until the Ara project stepped in. They have now bred and reintroduced over 45 individual birds which are now reproducing successfully in the wild!

great green macaw
There are only 1500 Great Green Macaws left in the wild/ Photo: charliedoggett.net

 

With a little help from our friends

Once we had selected the appropriate trees, Damian, his mother Denise, his Father Rony and their gardener Romario all helped us to plant them. These are some of the tree species that we considered to be of ecological importance to the ecosystem of this area:

Guarumo (Cecropia spp) x 10
Papaya (Carica papaya) x 10
Mountain Almond (Dipterix panamensis) x 35
Caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito) x 1
Surá (Terminalia oblonga) x 2
Cedro (Carapa guianensis) x 1
Ojoche (Brosium alicassum) x 10
Sangrillo (Pterocarpus oficinallis) x 10
Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) x 4
Anona (Anona syamosa) x 10
Beach Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) x 1
Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) x 5
Black Manú  (Minquartia guianensis) x 1

All of these trees were planted in only one morning by five people! Obviously it is going to take some time for these trees to reach the size necessary to connect with the adjoining canopy, but the most important part as been done: planting them. While these trees are growing, we will continue with our mission. We will temporarily connect the canopy gap with an artificial bridge to help the sloths and monkeys travel without having to risk their lives on the ground. We will maintain this bridge until the trees can grow enough to fill the gap naturally!

hands planting treeling
We need to plant millions of trees to mitigate Climate Change. Each one counts!

 

A story to share

We were so happy to work with Damian, Denise, Rony and Romario. We are also grateful for them opening their house to us and to the wonderful wildlife of this little corner of the planet. We think that sharing stories like this – stories of people who want to make a difference in their own way – is important to show how we all have the power to make change.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

four people standing one has a tree
Romario, Rony, Denise and Damian changing the world one tree at a time.

Maybe it is time to reconsider the concept of an unfriendly garden that excludes animals and plants. Maybe it is time to reconnect our urban environments with nature. Much better than a boring grass lawn (or even worse – a PLASTIC fake grass lawn) is an edible garden with native trees, animals, bees, hummingbirds, monkeys and sloths! We are a species with the capacity to modify the landscape, but what if we integrate with it instead?

That is what the Connected Gardens Project is all about.

All trees planted and bridges built by us are free to the people that sign up to the project. We don’t receive any financial support from the government and so we rely entirely on the generous help of our supporters to carry out all of our conservation programs. If you would like to contribute to help us safeguard a future for sloths then you can do so here: MAKE YOUR DIFFERENCE