Sloth Deformities – A Genetic Study

Sloth Deformities – A Genetic Study

Rescue centres in Costa Rica (in particular, in the Limon province) are receiving baby sloths showing birth defects in alarming numbers. The deformities have all been strikingly similar; 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.

To fund this urgent research into the genetic health of wild sloth populations we ran a successful Indiegogo campaign in 2016. As a result, we were able to collect data and hair samples from over 300 wild-born sloths (both two-fingered C.hoffmanni and three-fingered B.variegatus) originating from over 97 different regions in Costa Rica. This is a far larger sample size than has ever been studied before and it will undoubtedly provide us with many of the answers that we need. The genetic analysis has already been completed at Swansea University and we are currently finalizing the first scientific paper on this topic for publication. While we are beginning to develop targeted conservation strategies to mitigate this problem in the south Caribbean, we still need to complete more in-depth analyses to really pin-point the problem areas and help with guiding our conservation actions.