Sloth Problems (and how to solve them)
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.
1) Loss of Habitat
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) Power line electrocutions
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 isolation and deformities
This 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 the results of this project have now been published and they reveal an unexpected situation with far-reaching implications for future sloth conservation and rescue efforts.
Today we want to say THANK YOU to all of our supporters who made this work possible!
Read More: Sloth Genetics: a surprising twist
4) Urban development
When the forest is disturbed and trees are cut down, sloths are forced to risk their lives by traveling 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!
Read more: Connected Gardens Project
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 crossings’ 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!
Read more: Sloth Crossings
6) Tourism and the illegal pet trade
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”,
- 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).
- Working with local hotels, businesses, and restaurants, particularly those with sloths frequenting their property, through our accreditation program ‘Sloth Friendly Network’. We provide wildlife bridges, trees, and information leaflets and posters to help educate guests about the problems that sloths are facing.
- Working with local children through our educational outreach programs to encourage the protection rather than the exploitation of wildlife,
- Coordinating international online campaigns to combat the ‘wildlife selfie’ and illegal pet trade markets.
Read more: The ultimate sloth selfie code
Read more: Sloth Friendly Network
7) Dog attacks
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, the 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!
Read more: OH my Dog! Helping Sloths By Helping Dogs
How can you help?
If you want to know how you can help sloths from the comfort of your own home, we have compiled 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!