A Day in the Life of a SloCo Volunteer
“Oh my gosh,” says my boss, holding the binoculars to her face. “I think Croissant is a boy.”
I take my eyes off the beeping box attached to our portable radio antenna and peer into the trees, trying to find the small, tan colored sloth amongst the palm fronts and tree bark. Boy or girl, I personally think Croissant might actually be a coconut, but I defer to Amelia’s experience.
I also sympathize; it took me 27 years to figure out that I, too, was mislabeled as a girl, and longer than that to correct it. Luckily for the alleged sloth, or possibly coconut, SloCo is a very friendly and open organization and we can easily update our records. We also do not discriminate: both people and sloths of all sexes, genders, colors and species are welcome here.
Croissant is one of our Urban Sloths; sloths who have been volunteered to wear temporary radio collars and be studied so that we can better understand sloth behavior and how it is affected by humans in their environment. To this end we go out every day and track down each sloth, trekking through dirt roads, abandoned lots, overgrown jungle and occasionally backyards to find our Urban Sloths and gather data. I pull out a device for triangulating the height of trees and begin taking measurements of Croissant’s height, the tree that she (or maybe he) is in, and any observed differences since they were last spotted. As I do so, the radio antenna on my back shifts, pointing away, and begins beeping louder.
“Amelia?” I ask. “Are we sure that’s even Croissant?”
“It must be! How many tiny, 3-fingered sloths sleep in exactly this position, in exactly this Sangrillo tree, and also look exactly like Croissant?”
“Only, according to the radio, the sloth we’re tracking is over there.” I point in the opposite direction of where we are looking. “Do we have a confirmation of the collar?”
Amelia puts the binoculars up to her face again. “Not yet,” she grumbles, and soon we are climbing over the truck, standing in mud puddles (this would be me), craning our necks and using cell phones as zoom lenses to see if the alleged Croissant is wearing a radio collar. After a while, exhausted, hot, and covered in mud (mostly me), we have to admit that we cannot confirm this is our sloth. If sloths were people, we could just ask: Excuse me, what is your name? What are your pronouns? Do you like this tree? By the way, do you mind wearing a radio collar for a few months?
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for the real Croissant, who, according to our instruments, is either 30 meters in the canopy pretending to be a termite nest, has buried her collar in the ditch, or has invented a new form of teleportation as a defense mechanism against being tracked.
Eventually, it begins to rain.
I run the equipment back to the truck while Amelia updates our records for the last several days with our new uncertainties. We don’t always like uncertainty, but this is science: just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is right, and making assumptions is not how you learn the truth.
Tomorrow we’ll be back again, looking not for the truths we want to impose upon others, but for the ones they have to teach us, if we are willing to listen.
Urban Sloth Project Volunteer