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

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.

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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.

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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 and Palm Oil: how can you help?

The world is waking up to the palm oil crisis that has driven orangutans to the brink of extinction, but is boycotting palm oil really the answer? Unfortunately no, but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless.

Last week the UK supermarket chain Iceland shone the international spotlight on palm oil after its controversial Christmas TV advert was banned from British television. The advert, which depicts an orangutan hiding in a child’s bedroom after loggers destroyed his rainforest home, has now been watched over 30 million times online making it one of the most successful Christmas adverts ever created. Similar to the anti-plastic movement that is sweeping across the world, this advert has stimulated an uproar against the palm oil industry. While it has been overwhelmingly successful at raising awareness of a very important issue, fears are growing as increasing numbers of people are demanding a boycott on palm oil. This is dangerous.

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Palm oil is used in approximately 50% of everything that we buy, ranging from food and shoes to cosmetics and cleaning products. It is everywhere and the demand is huge. Consequently, palm oil plantations are responsible for the majority of Malaysian and Indonesian deforestation, with a football pitch-sized area of forest being cleared every 25 seconds in Indonesia alone! However this is not just an issue affecting Asia. Palm oil plantations are also springing up in place of the sloths rainforest habitat in South and Central America, further adding to the ecosystem destruction occurring due to crops such as soy, bananas and animal agriculture.

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Boycotting palm oil, however, doesn’t mean that manufactures will simply remove oil from their products all together. It simply means that they will be forced to replace it with a different kind of vegetable oil. Unfortunately, palm oil is already the worlds most productive oil crop. All alternative oils such as soybean and rapeseed require up to 10 times more land to produce the same amount of product – increasing demand on these crops would be even worse. In addition, boycotting palm oil will drive the price down, consequently increasing the demand for use in biofuel and livestock feed, particularly in countries such as China and India.

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So what can we do?
Thankfully the answer applies to all aspects of consumerism, and will have benefits for species and habitats globally (including sloths!): sustainable shopping. Think carefully about the products that you buy because as the consumer, you have the power. Only choose products from manufacturers and retailers who use ingredients from sustainable, certified, legal and deforestation-free sources. They exist, you just have to know which ones to look for! We know this sounds like a lot of hard work – who has time to read every label and search online for every product that you want to buy? But the good news is you don’t have to! There is a wonderful (and free!) bar-code scanning app called Giki that will do all of the hard work for you. Just scan the product that you want to buy and it will tell you all of the information you could ever want to know about that product. Whether it’s local pollution, global climate change, conservation, animal welfare or health, it will give you everything that you need to make an informed decision! Thankfully, using this app will also help you to avoid fruit and produce that is contributing to the sloth deformity epidemic in Costa Rica by way of rampant pesticide usage and forest fragmentation. It’s a win for everybody!

The Power of Education

Welcome to our first official blog post for The Sloth Conservation Foundation – and just in time for International Sloth Day which we celebrated on October 20th. One of the most important things for us here at SloCo is education. That doesn’t mean just helping those individuals or organisations who work directly with Sloths (although we do like doing that as well), but also the future generations and local communities. In order to instigate long-term change, we strongly believe that planting the seeds of knowledge and awareness from an early age are the key to success.

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With this in mind, we recently embarked on our first environmental education program in a local school in Costa Rica and have now completed three separate workshops, all aimed at teaching children between the ages of 3-5 about the wonders of their local wildlife. We have covered not only sloths (of course) but also monkeys and snakes. Although the missions of SloCo target conservation of sloths in the wild, it is hugely important to us that the children who live in this environment – the children who will grow up to be responsible for future conservation efforts – know as much as possible about the wildlife that surrounds them every day. Many of the issues that are threatening sloth populations are having a similar effect on a multitude of species: poaching, electrocution, traffic collisions, animal cruelty and habitat loss to name a few.

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So why is education important? Most of the issues that sloth populations are facing are caused by humans. We are the reason that trees are being chopped down and replaced with towns, roads, fruit plantations and pastures. It’s a local problem – from individuals carrying out the act to authorities permitting it, but also an international problem – from the consumers who want the cheap fruit to the irresponsible tourists and importers / buyers of sloths for the pet trade.

Adding to that, sloths haven’t always had the best reputation in Central and South American countries. In 1749, French naturalist Georges Buffon was the first to describe the creature in his encyclopedia of life sciences, saying:

“Slowness, habitual pain, and stupidity are the results of this strange and bungled conformation. These sloths are the lowest form of existence. One more defect would have made their lives impossible.”

Given such a precedent, it is of little surprise that sloths are subject to such profound speculation and misinterpretation, ranging from the benign – that they sleep all day – to the creative anecdotes we regularly hear, such as: “Sloths are so stupid that they mistake their own arm for a tree branch”. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a more sinister tone. Because sloths move so awkwardly on the ground and have moths and algae living in their hair, people occasionally perceive them as dirty and evil creatures. Some even go as far as “the devils animal”. Such a viewpoint is rooted in a lack of education, and it is incredibly important to change that. Why would anyone want to protect something that they think is grotesque? Or a perceived danger? As Baba Dioum once famously said:

“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.”

The children that we teach may grow up to become future scientists, biologists, conservationists (to name a few), and as such, the simple power of education should never be underestimated.

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As part of our environmental education program we have taken school children to a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center – The Jaguar Rescue Center (JRC). The Jaguar Rescue Center was established in 2008 and is dedicated to helping animals in need. The JRC rehabilitates injured, sick and orphaned animals and releases those who are restored to good health back to their natural habitat (to find out more about this organization visit here). During our visit the children were able to see all of the animals that we had been talking about – up close and personal! They were also able to see first hand which animals are in trouble, learn why they ended up in rescue centers and see the ways that people are trying to help return them to the wild. Although this is our first school initiative, we will be continuing  and expanding this program throughout Costa Rica.

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n.b. huge thanks to the school and the teachers involved, as well as the amazing children we got to teach. Also thanks to Encar Garcia, Dexter Miller and Mat Bowman at The Jaguar Rescue Center.