A family comes together to plant 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. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Center. After Conga’s release 7 years ago she joined this troop of wild monkeys and so far has raised 6 babies of her own.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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)
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