A happy accident | Tracking Diaries #16

A happy accident | Tracking Diaries #16


It all started with a happy accident. 

While strolling back from the beach one afternoon, I noticed a bunch of people standing by the side of the road, their necks craned upwards towards a tree that they were staring at intently. 

“Normal people don’t stare at trees that hard,” I thought to myself. “These folks are up to something cool.”

I was right. I stumbled across a research team from the Sloth Conservation Foundation, out on a mission to track, locate, and monitor a group of sloths for a long-term scientific study.


Volunteers Ashka and Gabriel


After introducing myself, explaining my background in evolutionary biology, and asking them about their work, they kindly invited me to join them on their next trip – an opportunity I eagerly accepted. 

A week or so later, I too was standing by the side of that same road, staring upwards at a tree looking for a sloth called Sandwich and her baby.

The project I assisted with is called the Urban Sloth Project, one of SloCo’s long-term projects to understand the activity and behavior of sloths living in and around urban environments. 

The team has put a lot of hard work into the project, collaring many individuals of both the two and three-fingered variety and diligently tacking them down multiple times a week to understand their patterns of movement over long time spans. 


José, the USP coordinator, Ashka, Farhan, and Gabriel


Over the course of the day, we were able to find every one of the sloths on our list thanks to the use of tracking devices in their collars, some high-powered binoculars, and, of course, a lot of patience. For each one, we noted their coordinates, position, behavior, and height above the ground, as well as the species of tree they were hanging out in and the ambient noise of their environment.

We also bumped into many that weren’t part of the study, including a male three-fingered sloth climbing up from the ground after descending to take his weekly poop at the base of a tree – something the folks at SloCo informed me was very lucky to see on my first trip. 

The SloCo team taught me so much on my first day – from how to use the (sometimes temperamental) tracking equipment to the various kinds of data it was important to collect for each sloth, to the many unsolved mysteries that still exist around sloth biology. 

More than anything though, the main lesson I learned from my first day tracking sloths was not a scientific one at all, but it was still incredibly valuable: thanks to the hard work and determination of organizations like SloCo, the future of Costa Rica’s sloths is in very good hands.

-Farhan Mitha

USP Volunteer


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