2021: A year in Review

2021: A year in Review

Well, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? Just when we thought we’d be getting back to normal after 2020, it turns out there is no new normal! If you are still trying to find your footing in this world going forward, know that you are not alone.

We’ve had a lot of great successes and some spectacular fails, but overall SloCo’s trajectory has been a huge success. Sloths, trees, coral reefs, Attacks of the Spider Monkeys (no, that’s not a B-rated movie, that’s business as usual down here in the jungle!) read on to see what the Sloth Conservation Foundation has achieved this year:

The year of the sloth

This year we were extremely happy to participate in the drafting of the law that proclaimed the sloth as a new national symbol for Costa Rica.

 

national symbol costa rica

 

This is really important because as a national symbol, sloths will enjoy a special protected status. Several ministries and public companies are now obligated to ensure the health and wellbeing of sloths and their habitat!

 

The first International Sloth Festival

The Sloth Conservation Foundation was proud to host the first International Sloth Festival, with fun activities for all the family to raise awareness about sloths! One of our favorite activities was “The sloth trail” where we taught children how to be sloth scientists for a day, including trying to find a hidden toy sloth wearing one of the tracking collars, and using our “beeping box” (radio receiver).

The Sloth Festival was a great moment for us to open up to the community of the South Caribbean after almost two years of the pandemic! Since the festival was hosted outdoors, everyone got to get out and safely have fun.

sloth festival

Helping the endangered Maned Sloths

In March, during the peak of the pandemic in Brazil (yeah, we know…we like to live dangerously), we traveled to South America to meet professor Gastón Giné. SloCo was able to provide him with 10 special GPS backpacks for a research project he’s conducting on the maned sloths that live in Sapiranga Reserve, near Salvador da Bahía.

maned sloth
Professor Gastón Giné prior to release the sloth after being tagged

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Sloths and sea turtles

In June we had the chance to visit Tortuguero, a small town and wildlife reserve in the northern part of Costa Rica accessible only by water. Flanked by the Caribbean Sea on one side and rivers and canals on the other, it is a beautiful area to arrive at after about seven hours of traveling from our HQ.

We went there to organize a castration clinic for the dogs in the community, to install sloth crossing wildlife bridges, and to collaborate with the local organizations and the national park authorities to protect the sloths, the jaguars, and the sea turtles of the area. This was undoubtedly one of the biggest moments in 2021! We even managed to put together a quick volunteer beach clean-up on our last day.

tortuguero

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Scientific research

We launched the Urban Sloth Project in November/December of last year to study the impact of urbanization on the lives of the wild sloths that live in our towns and streets. In one year we have monitored nine sloths under this initiative and we have some great initial data on how sloths move around and interact with urban environments. Plus, we’ve really gotten to know our Urban Sloths!

ames

What went wrong:

We sadly lost Sharon, our first collared Urban Sloth, due to an illegal powerline running through her home range. Cacao was another two-fingered Urban Sloth that unfortunately did not survive a dog attack while he was crawling along the ground to a new tree. He was rushed to immediate veterinary attention but it was too late. We knew these were the possible outcomes for the sloths we were studying, but we didn’t expect this to happen in the first six months of this five-year study.

Highlights:

Although losing Sharon and Cacao was terrible, we also had great moments learning about the other sloths we are monitoring. We have been particularly surprised by Nacho and his odyssey living in town: we’ve seen this sloth under restaurant tables, on branches above beach parties, and traveling long distances in only a few days. Nacho is proof that sloths might be more resilient than we think, and this is good news when their habitat is changing so quickly.

Plans for the future:

We’ll expand the number of new sloths we are tracking and also begin to follow and monitor wild sloths that live in pristine and untouched rainforest areas. This will allow us to compare wild sloth behavior with the ones like Nacho who live in urbanized and disturbed areas.

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Connected Gardens Project:

Last year we set a goal to plant 1500 trees, and we’re proud we can say we achieved and even surpassed that number! In 2021 we planted more than 2000 sloth-friendly trees on 71 different properties! Combined with our previously planted trees, that makes a total of more than 3500 trees. Go reforestation!

We have also started plantations on the main beach here in the South Caribbean in collaboration with our friends of the Coral Conservation. Protecting and reforesting the coastal zone is very important to prevent beach erosion.

What went wrong:

Some of our trees were smashed and stolen. ☹ Planting trees in the most popular beach might not be the dream we thought it was. We lost a couple of hundred trees because people didn’t respect the reforestation areas; they ran over the treelings with their cars, removed the physical barriers designating the restoration areas, and even stole the trees and the signs we made. As frustrating as this is, we won’t be letting it stop us. Clearly, this area needs some community outreach in addition to more trees because hearts and minds need rehabilitation too. 😊

Highlights:

In November we received a visit from one of our most important SloCo collaborators: the TV host and author Lucy Cooke! She and her initiative “The Sloth Appreciation Society” donate funds to SloCo for tree planting, and this time she was able to come down to Costa Rica and pay a visit to her plantation site!

Special thanks go out to the Girl Scouts Northern California, Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, and Girl Scouts Connecticut, whose donations provided for more than half of all the trees we planted.

Plans for the future:

We just want to expand our reforestation efforts! More trees! Healthier beaches! Engaged communities! And, of course, more sloth habitat.

 

Sloth Crossings Project

2021 was a big year for this project: we hit our 100th bridge installed! Another big win for our team was the climbing course and official certification program. We were finally able to buy our own climbing and safety equipment instead of depending on external climbers and their busy schedules. This was such a great thing and helped to make the project more efficient time and money-wise, and we installed 80 bridges this year!

sloth crossing at the beach

What went wrong:

We spent over 16 hours installing the most difficult bridge yet to cross over a 30 meters (90 feet) tall tree. Even still, this doesn’t compare to the time our climber Tamara was almost attacked by a big group of upset spider monkeys, all while she was hanging over 20 meters (60 feet) in the air! Thankfully she was able to climb down in time and get to safety. The best part though was that just a week after the installation of that bridge, the spider monkeys started using it! 

monkey using wildlife bridge

Highlights:

One of our sloth crossings has proven extremely successful, and we installed and then retrieved a camera trap from one of the bridge anchor points. This camera took over 6000 photos of sloths, monkeys, and kinkajous using the bridge!

 

monkey crossings camera trap

Another great highlight was that our newly certified team installed their very first bridge in Tortuguero, just above the entrance of the National Park. What a way to start this new stage!

tortuguero bridge

Plans for the future:

In 2022 we want to start monitoring the usage of the sloth crossings by installing more camera traps. You can check our wishlist in case you would like to help us with a camera! 😉 Just think, more wildlife pictures, and all completely candid shots!

We’re also planning on installing our first major bridge–with a more robust design and structure–over the main road that cuts the jungle in the South Caribbean.

 

Oh My Dog!

We started this project with very little funds and the modest goal of helping a local organization to spay and neuter 10 rescued dogs per month. We continue with this task, and in 2021 we were able to castrate not only 120 rescued dogs, but we also organize three major clinics, including the one in Tortuguero, sterilizing a total of 390 dogs. This does so much to help promote the health of the local dog and wildlife populations!

dog clinic tortuguero

What went wrong:

2021 was such a great year for the Oh My Dog project, we are happy to report no major setbacks! Well, a few cute puppies were abandoned at the spay-and-neuter clinics, but they have since found happy homes, and are busy causing delight and trouble for their new humans.

Highlights:

This year we were able to organize three training courses for dogs with behavioral issues or high prey drive to prevent attacks on wildlife. In total over 60 dogs were educated and we were thrilled to experience how engaged people were in helping their dogs! We’re constantly receiving requests from the community about the next training course. Success!

Plans for the future:

In addition to continuing the castration clinics, we’re currently conducting dog surveys in the area to determine the approximate dog population so we can start measuring the impact of the clinics. We will be doing this through 2022 to determine the long-term impact such projects have.

spay dog

Power line insulation

From late 2018 to 2020, we have provided a total of $10,000 in grants to a local organization to insulate power lines. This money is used to buy the raw materials to insulate electrical transformers and power lines, and then ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the Costa Rican electric company) insulates them.

ICE is a public company, meaning that it depends on government funding, and this also means that the budget of the company is very tight. So far they have managed to put $400.00 in the South Caribbean to prevent electrocutions.

 

What went wrong:

Since the start of the pandemic, the maintenance work on the power grid has been kept to a minimum in order to provide less interruption to service as a lot of the population started to work and study from home. Unfortunately, this means the power line insulation has been paused ever since.

Plans for the future:

ICE is also in the middle of a process to update and digitize the power grid, meaning they are also preparing new contracts with organizations like SloCo to provide funds and materials to insulate power lines. If all goes according to the plan, they’ll have the contracts ready before mid-2022! 

 

Sloth School

2020 launched us to virtual lessons, and just when we thought the children were going back to the classroom, 2021 sent us back online. Despite this, we reached over 2500 children this year, making a total of 4,672 school children who had received enriched wildlife education!

Highlights:

Despite the school recess, this year we reached out to kids from all over Costa Rica with our virtual lessons, and we’re starting to receive invitations from schools in other provinces to continue our educational services there!

 

japan school
Thanks to our friends from Omuta City Zoo, sloth lessons reached Japanese classrooms!

Plans for the future:

We’re preparing our education materials–already in English, Spanish, and Japanese–and translating them into German and Italian to reach more kids!

 

Sloth Tourism

Well, we don’t need to tell you how the last two years turned out for the tourism industry (in case you have been living in a cave with no TV, it went badly), but we can tell you that it deeply affected our community that relies heavily on tourists and visitors. This year was at least better than 2020, and the number of visitors is starting to improve and slowly reaching pre-pandemic levels.

Plans for the future:

 

We have big plans for all of our tourism-related projects, but we have to keep these secret until we officially launch them 😉

Final words for 2021

The past two years were challenging for all of us. 2022 is only a few days away, and some of us are still processing 2020! These last couple of years have been a learning process, as both an organization and as individuals.

We still are a small and young organization, but we have managed to grow bigger than we ever expected in a very short period of time.

At the beginning of 2020, there were just four of us, and in only two years we tripled that number because our projects demanded more people working. This growth is only possible thanks to the marvelous support of people from all over the world who donate, adopt a sloth, share our posts on social media and spread awareness about sloths. It is thanks to other organizations and businesses who trust in us and in our initiatives.

As we always say, this small group of passionate people settled in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica has the support of thousands like you. Because in this interconnected world, you don’t need to be on a Costa Rican field to plant a tree: we will be your hands!

For all the amazing support received by our sloth community, we can’t give enough thanks to all the people who made this project possible.

We have big plans for the future of SloCo and of sloth conservation, and we’re happy to know that they will become a reality with the amazing community we have at our backs.

 

-Cecilia Pamich

Field Operations Manager

-Ames Reeder

The Urban Sloth Project assistant and writer