Tortuguero: Wildlife bridges, castration clinics, and more!

Tortuguero: Wildlife bridges, castration clinics, and more!

Last year Team Sloth were thrilled to receive an invite to visit the Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.  Tortuguero is renowned as one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the whole world, and in particular, its white sand beaches are a haven for endangered green sea turtles. 

We were excited to be connecting and forming new collaborations with a range of different local conservation organizations in the area, and this trip was an opportunity to learn more about the problems in the region and to come up with mutually beneficial solutions to help both the people and the wildlife. 

 

tortuguero

 

Sadly, it quickly became apparent that the global pandemic had hit the village of Tortuguero hard. Historically, the residents of Tortuguero used to sustain themselves by harvesting the turtles for food, trading the turtle eggs, and creating items to sell from the shells.

Thankfully in recent years, the economic benefit of the turtles has slowly shifted away from exploitation and towards ecotourism, but this industry took a hard hit in 2020 and many local families found themselves in difficult positions. 

 

tortuguero

A unique town

These issues are exacerbated by the fact that Tortuguero is a small, isolated town with no road access and absolutely no veterinary resources. The nearest vet clinic or wildlife rescue facility is over 2 hours away and can only be reached by a combination of boat and bus!

The dog population of the town now outweighs the human population 2:1, with 3000 dogs living alongside 1600 humans, and a lack of castration opportunities means that this problem is getting rapidly worse.

The large dog population is troublesome for a variety of reasons. A large outbreak of canine distemper this year threatened not only people’s pets but also raccoons, foxes, and even jaguars – a rare species that is already extremely vulnerable.

Unfortunately, dogs are now contributing to the rapid extinction of over 180 different wildlife species. In Tortuguero, they are attacking sloths as they move on the ground between trees, and they are also killing the sea turtles as they emerge onto the beach to lay their eggs. As an endangered species that is so closely intertwined with the livelihoods of the local community, Team Sloth felt impassioned to help restore the balance. 

tortuguero

Organizing castration campaigns and beach clean-ups

After returning from our initial visit to Tortuguero last year, we began to hatch a plan that would benefit the community, the wildlife, and the dogs. 

Working alongside Asociación Voluntarios de Costa Rica (ASVO), Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC), Ministerio de Ambiente (MINAE), the Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Comité Ambiental Tortuguero, we organized and funded a major castration and health clinic for the dogs of Tortuguero.

 

dog clinic tortuguero

 

But why stop there? Because we often like to bite off more than we can chew, we also decided to build some Sloth Crossing canopy bridges, do some education outreach with the local children and also host a beach clean-up event at the same time! 

 

beach clean up tortuguero

Saving turtles and sloths by helping dogs

After a 4 hour, beautiful boat ride down the canals from Moin to Tortuguero, Team Sloth arrived late at night ready to begin the castration clinic the following morning. We brought a team of fantastic volunteers along, and together with veterinarian Maricela, Mina Escot, and the ASVO volunteers, we were able to castrate 42 dogs in one day!

 

tortuguero

 

Some people had even traveled to the clinic by boat and we had to carry their (still slightly sleepy) dogs back to their boat to head home! In the meantime, the rest of Team Sloth had ventured out into the local area with ASVO to start installing Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges!

 

Bridging more gaps

Over the course of the next few days, the bridge-building team had quite an adventure! They were able to install 6 new Sloth Crossing bridges, used over 200 meters of rope in trees that were over 40 meters high, and managed to reconnect some important areas of the national park that had become isolated due to fallen trees. However, in true SloCo style, they also managed to encounter quite a few disasters along the way! 

 

tortuguero

 

There were ant nests in people’s shoes, broken slingshots, missing equipment, torrential rain, and some accidental injuries, but perhaps the most precarious moment happened while finishing off the very last bridge of the trip. 

Tamara is a fully trained climber and is Team Sloth’s chief bridge builder. She was dangling at the top of a 30-meter tall tree trying to secure the rope to a branch when she noticed a troop of wild spider monkeys bounding through the canopy towards her. These magnificent and rare primates are spectacular to watch in the wild, and at first, she was excited to be having such a close encounter with them.

 

spider monkey tortuguero

 

Unfortunately, she quickly realized that they weren’t quite as happy to see her as they started to get a bit too close for comfort. They were no doubt confused by the strange human dangling in one of their favorite trees, and they weren’t afraid to let her know about it. They surrounded her in the tree and began to scream at her while showing their teeth.

Her instinctive response was to scream right back at them to show that she wasn’t afraid, and so for an uncomfortable amount of time, Tamara and the monkeys were yelling at each other and having a stand-off in the tree.

At the same time, she somehow managed to finish securing the rope and got her equipment ready to make a quick descent from the canopy using the safety ropes. Once her feet were back on solid ground she breathed a big sigh of relief – you can never say it’s boring working for Team Sloth!

 

tortuguero bridge

Education

Due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we, unfortunately, weren’t able to host our usual Sloth School events in the local schools. Our education team didn’t give up, however, and they decided to go door to door instead! They delivered education packs to over 50 families in Tortuguero and are busy making plans to host a major outreach event as soon as the government declares it safe to do so. 

 

Together we go further

Lastly, we want to thank YOU for everything that you have done to support our work to protect sloths. We would not be able to run projects like this without you! 

Thank you also to SINAC/MINAE at Tortuguero National Park, Mina, James and the ASVO volunteers, our vet Maricela and her team, CAT and STC at Tortuguero – none of this could have been done without you!

We are now aiming to return to Tortuguero in September when we hope to build more wildlife bridges, castrate more dogs, and further help the community of Tortuguero!

 

sloco team

 

-Sarah Kennedy

Director of Education & Outreach

Oh My Dog Project Manager

 

Canine Training To Prevent Attacks On Sloths and Wildlife

Canine Training To Prevent Attacks On Sloths and Wildlife

Certain wild animals, such as our sweet sloths, are slow-moving and would not be able to hide quickly. They are no match for a fast-running dog. It is not the dog’s fault that they have this instinct, but it is entirely up to us as pet owners to ensure that our dogs are trained well and learn not to attack wildlife.

 

dog aggressive attack

 

No matter where you live in the world, you share a habitat with local wildlife. Dogs and wild animals may run into each other from time to time, and the results can be severe. We have to take steps to protect both our dogs and wildlife from these encounters so that both dogs and wild animals can coexist peacefully.

 

Teach The Command “Wait”

The command “wait” is the command you will most want to focus on first. Your dog doesn’t have to hold a particular position, like when you use the phrase “stay” after the dog lays down so that it continues to stay in that position. But using the “wait” command is a way to make sure your dog pauses before going any further.

The animal hospital Bond Vet – Garden City, NY advises that you should start training this command when your dog is still a puppy, even though older dogs do have the ability to learn this.

The easiest way to help your pup understand this command is to have them wait before eating and before going outdoors. Praise and treats are highly recommended as well to help encourage good behavior when your dog waits.

 

dog training

 

In order to do this accordingly, you might consider enrolling your dog in socialization classes or dog training programs to make sure that your dog understands your commands and will obey you, no matter the situation.

As your dog progresses in learning the “wait” command, you can begin to take it outdoors and practice on more considerable challenges, such as using a toy, and eventually, another animal.

Some dogs may be easier to train than others, with some being more susceptible to learning commands quickly. However, once you have a solid “wait” command instilled within your pup, you can work to prevent it from chasing and confronting wildlife.

 

dog attack wildlife

Training With A Barrier

If you want to work training your dog specifically with other animals, it is a good idea to start with a barrier between your dog and the animal. Then you can work to find that optimal distance where your dog will not react when spotting the other animal and work more on the “wait” command.

If you find that your dog is too anxious and wants to move towards the animal, continue to work away from the animal and see when your dog can focus more on you.

Once you have established contact and your dog is obeying the command, reward it with a treat. If you find that the dog can’t concentrate on the treat, you need to continue working on your distancing.

You can use alternative rewards for treats here as well, such as a simple pet or a favorite toy, so that your dog understands it is receiving an award for exercising the correct behavior.

 

trainning

Training with a Toy

If you want to start with a toy, leave it in the middle of the room and step away. Then when you see your dog come upon it, use your command “wait.” Make sure you work with your dog and only reward it when it obeys the order on the first go.

You can experiment with intentionally leaving the toy unattended and wait to see if your dog goes towards it, not thinking that you are watching. When the dog starts to sneak towards the toy, use the command and see how quickly your dog reacts.

If you continue to do this often, your dog will understand that you are, in a sense, always watching. Enforcing this command when your dog can’t see you will also help catch your dog in a situation where things can escalate so that you can jump right to the command to get your dog to obey fast.

You should also know that it is essential not to let the dog play with this toy since it is only to be used for training purposes, and you want the illusion for your dog to treat it as if it was a real, live animal.

 

dog toy trainning

Dogs and Sloths

Sloths are particularly vulnerable wild animals to dog attacks since they are unable to jump or run. Costa Rica has a vast dog problem when it comes to wildlife attacks and the Oh My Dog! initiative has been initiated to work and stop dog attacks.

 

 

 

People like to let their dogs roam freely outside, particularly in Costa Rica and other parts of the South Caribbean, and it is all too common for a dog to attack other people, dogs, and wildlife.

Our job as owners is to keep a close eye on our pets and have commands like “wait” at the ready to keep them from chasing after other animals.

After all, your dog also has the susceptibility to end up with an injury from attacking wildlife, not just the wildlife becoming injured.

 

 

Dog Contact with Wildlife

Even if you have a dog with impeccable training, there is always the possibility that your dog will act on instinct first and not listen to your command. Minimizing your dog’s contact with any wildlife is part of ensuring that both your dog and other wildlife are safe.

Some steps you can take to keep your dog from encountering wildlife:

  • Don’t leave food outside that might bring about other animals.
  • Don’t hike with your dog far into the woods, especially right at dawn or sunset, when more wild animals are active.
  • If you want to hike and have your dog come with you, it is safer to hike in a group so that other wild animals will keep their distance.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when outdoors, especially if hiking or in a location where there might be wild animals.

dog running trainning

 

Your dog’s urge to chase will be a strong one, but if you take the time to practice and work closely and frequently with your dog, it can overcome its urge. If your dog learns to look to you for permission and commands, it strengthens your bond and prevents your dog from acting solely on its instinctive responses.

 

Nicole McCray-

 

Tales from the Jungle: May Update!

Dogs, Goats, and Missing Sloths

Team Sloth have been the opposite of slothful this month – we have been chasing invisible sloths through the jungle, carrying out emergency surgeries, castrating dogs and we were shamefully outsmarted by a herd of hungry goats. Read on below to learn about our biggest successes and failures this month!

Sloth Crossing in Action!

 

 

 

We use remote camera trap technology to monitor our Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges, and this month we were delighted to discover that one of our bridges has turned into a major highway for lots of different species – including both species of sloth, monkeys, and even kinkajous! Click here to view the images!

 

Our First Castration Clinic!

 

dog castration

 

After months of preparation, we were finally able to host our first castration clinic this month in collaboration with veterinarian Ileana Núñez Ulate.  We were able to castrate dogs for 21 local indigenous families in the South Caribbean which will help to reduce the number of dog attacks on sloths in the future!

 

Tarzan’s Return to the Jungle!

 

surgery sloth

Tarzan is a three-fingered sloth that arrived to a local rescue center with a badly broken arm. He needed specialized surgery to repair the bones, but the rescue center did not have the funds available due to the ongoing pandemic. We were delighted to step in and fund Tarzan’s surgery, and he is now recovering and preparing for release back into the wild!

 

Chasing Sloths with Suzi

 

suzi eszterhas sloth

This month we are also delighted to host world-renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas who is here in the South Caribbean photographing sloths and the conservation problems that they face. We will be able to share her images with you soon, so stay tuned! You can also check out her work to support young girls in wildlife photography: ‘Girls Who Click’!

 

Back to School!

 

school south caribbean

 

We were relieved this month to be able to resume our in-person sloth lessons in local schools in Costa Rica! We are also happy to have welcomed Kassandra into Team Sloth as our new Education Officer in the South Caribbean! Don’t forget – if you are a teacher you can still contact us to organize a free virtual lesson (in English or Spanish) wherever in the world you are!

 

Reforestation Records!

 

 

This month we planted our 700th tree since the beginning of 2021 and connected 28 new properties as wildlife corridors in the South Caribbean! We have also formed new partnerships with other local organizations with the joint aim to reforest coastal areas. This will help not only sloths but also many other species – including endangered sea turtles!

Check out this map to see our tree plantations and wildlife bridges!

New Sloth Backpack!

 

backpack

 

Earlier this week we were fortunate enough to find Alan – one of our Urban Sloths – sleeping very low down near the ground! This was the perfect opportunity for us to give him a full health check and also fit him with a brand new Sloth Backpack! He will wear this backpack for the next 3 weeks and he will hopefully teach us a lot about urban sloth ecology!

 

What Went Wrong

It isn’t always sunshine and sloths! Here are our ultimate fails this month…. because we believe that success stories are not the only kind that needs to be shared!

 

You’ve Goat to be kidding me

 

Whenever we plant trees, we always monitor the health of the saplings for the first few years to ensure survival. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate a goat invasion. One concerned property owner called us this month because some goats had broken onto his land and eaten all the trees we planted…!

 

Sloth School shut down

 

school education

Just 3 days after we finally resumed our in-person sloth school education program, the authorities of Costa Rica announced that schools would be immediately suspended again due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. Sometimes we just have to channel our inner sloth and be patient…

 

A Surprise Setback

 

dog castration

Our first castration clinic turned into a marathon 12-hour day when our vet discovered a severe uterus infection in the very first dog! We had to complete an emergency surgery to save the dog’s life, but thankfully everything went well (and we had plenty of coffee on hand to keep the team going)!

 

Missing In Action

 

backpack

We know that sloths are good at hiding, but we are usually able to find them if we look long and hard enough! Unfortunately, Arthur (the latest addition to our Urban Sloth Project) decided to challenge us on that fact. After we released him, he managed to avoid detection for 4 full weeks!

 

Taxidermy Fail

 

harpy eagle museum taxidermy

While this is not technically a failure on our part, we thought it deserved a place on this list! On a recent visit to the Costa Rican Natural History Museum, Team Sloth discovered some quite spectacular sloth taxidermy on display. Words can’t really do this justice – see them for yourself in our blog post!

 

I hope that you have enjoyed our updates this month – what a busy month it has been! We already have a lot of exciting events lined up for June, including expanding our sloth conservation efforts to include a whole new region of Costa Rica! I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon and thank you as always for continuing to support our work. We couldn’t do any of this without you!

All the best from the jungles of Costa Rica,
Dr. Rebecca Cliffe
Founder and Executive Director

+6000 Camera Trap images from a Sloth Crossing!

+6000 Camera Trap images from a Sloth Crossing!

These images were captured by one of our camera traps (a motion-activated camera) which we have been using to monitor our sloth crossings. On its own, this bridge helps wildlife safely get across the gap in the canopy (without having to risk their safety by coming to the ground).

 

crossing camera trap

 

Working in tandem, this network of bridges that we are building helps to restore vital biological corridors for wildlife struggling to adapt to a quickly changing habitat.

 

crossing camera trap

 

By analyzing these photos we can improve our bridge-building practices by getting a better sense of how long it takes for animals to start to use the bridges, which species are using them, and how frequently they cross.

 

kinkajou crossing camera trap

 

Over the course of 6 months, the camera took over 6,000 photos, of which 4000 of those images were of howler monkeys using the bridge.

 

monkey crossings camera trap

 

According to our preliminary analysis, it seems that kinkajous and opossums are among the first species to use the bridges – with the first crossings witnessed within days of installing the bridge.

 

kinkajou camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

 

camera trap crossing

 

camera trap crossing

 

 

Oh My Dog Advances!

Oh My Dog Advances!

This month we want to share with you some exciting updates about one of our favourite sloth conservation initiatives: the ‘Oh My Dog!’ project. 

While dogs may be man’s “best friend”, they are also becoming a big problem for wildlife. In fact, with an estimated 1 billion dogs worldwide, our canine companions are predicted to become one of the biggest causes of animal extinctions in the future.

We already know that dog attacks are the second leading cause of death for wild sloths. But what can we do about it?

 

spay dog

The Challenge

If you visit Costa Rica, you will see dogs everywhere. While some of these animals are strays, the majority do actually have owners. There is a cultural tendency towards people allowing their dogs to roam freely during the day, and these unsupervised dogs are attacking people, other dogs, and wildlife (including sloths). Many of these dogs have also not been spayed or neutered, which results in lots of unwanted puppies further aggravating the situation. 

For the past year, we have been working with local organizations Puerto Viejo Dogs & Clinica Arroyo y Solano to spay and neuter dogs in the South Caribbean region, but we knew we had to do more to really have an impact.

 

Did you know that a single female dog can have on average 14 puppies per year?/Photo by Brett Cole

Organizing castration clinics in low-income areas

This year we are organizing several major castration clinics in which approximately 90 dogs will be sterilized. These clinics will take place in low-income and indigenous areas, and we aim to run a minimum of 4 per year – perhaps even more if we are able to generate additional funding. 

In order to make this happen, we arranged a meeting last week with the Mayor of Talamanca, Puerto Viejo Dogs, and the regional heads of SENASA (who are in control of domestic animals in Costa Rica). It was an incredibly important and productive meeting and is a huge step in the right direction to fulfilling this goal. 

 

dog
Sarah Kennedy and Cecilia Pamich from SloCo, and Monica Moscarella from Puerto Viejo Dogs

Helping Sloths and Sea Turtles

Tortuguero is a town, and a national park, in the North Caribbean region of Costa Rica and it is also a high-risk area with a lot of unsupervised dogs. This location is a prime nesting spot for endangered sea turtles which lay their eggs on the beach every year.

There are more dogs than people in Tortuguero and the majority are free-roaming. These dogs are attacking and killing the endangered sea turtles, and also digging up the nests to eat the eggs.

Together with the local authorities, SINAC, Asociación de Voluntarios para áreas protegidas (ASVO), and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, we are working together to sterilize as many dogs in that area as possible, whilst also educating the local community.

 

sea turtle conservancy

The ‘Oh My Dog!’ Academy

We are also incredibly excited to have launched our first ‘Oh My Dog! Academy’ last week! We brought in professional dog trainers from San Jose to help us educate local dog owners and to prevent future attacks on wildlife. 

There is no dog training available in the South Caribbean region and as a lot of people have dogs with a high prey drive, working dogs, or large breeds, it is difficult for people to properly train these animals. 

 

 

With the help of local businesses Statshu’s Con Fusion and Casa Verde Lodge who provided us with the spaces for the course, we taught over 30 dogs last week (…and humans, because really it is the humans who need the training, not the dogs)! We will be hosting frequent academy courses throughout the year and we are confident that this is going to really help to reduce the number of dogs that are attacking sloths in the region. 

I truly believe that by working together like this we can instigate real, positive change. We are so incredibly grateful to all of those people who took the time out of their busy schedules to bring their dogs for training, and to all of our supporters who make it possible for us to run our projects every day. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

 

-Sarah Kennedy

Director of Education and Outreach

Oh My Dog! Manager

 

 

Celebrating Female Conservationists – International Women’s Day

Celebrating Female Conservationists – International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a yearly opportunity to celebrate women and their achievements, reflect on the progress made towards female empowerment, and continue to raise awareness to improve the lives of women globally. But it is not just a day about women. It is truly a day about recognizing the strength that comes from inclusion, drawing from the experiences, knowledge and perspectives of all people in society.

Community-based conservation is now recognized by many leading conservation organizations as the most effective method to ensure the long-term health of communities and ecosystems. At it’s core, community-based conservation aims to preserve ecosystems and their resources for future generations by including all people, particularly the most marginalized.

Women play an kay role in the processing of rice, a staple food for 3.5 billion people around the world. Despite their crucial role, they still lack access to the same income as their male peers./Photo of women working in a rice field near Junagadh, Gujarat, India by Bernard Gagnon (Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to being among the most marginalized in society, women are also disproportionately affected by changes to the environment. As the water-collectors, the fire-makers, and the food-givers, they interact with the environment on a daily basis and therefore are closely in tune to its changes. As such, they have many stories to tell.

So to honor these women working on the ground, leading the charge for conservation and their communities, here are some inspiring stories in their own words from female conservationists around the world.

Mya Nwe: Myanmar

Photo by Sai Nay Won Myint

As the WWF Forests Program Manager in Myanmar, Mya Nwe works on launching conservation programs to protect the country’s rich natural resources and ecosystems.

“I grew up in Myanmar, which is now the second most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. I vividly experienced the Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 100,000 people, and the aftermath it left behind. If Nargis is a sign of more intense storms to come due to climate change, I want to contribute to a more resilient future for my country. Without well-managed forests and arable land, the food we eat, the water we drink, as well as the protection we need against natural disasters are threatened.”

“Understanding some of these challenges firsthand have made me realize the importance of balancing growth and conservation. Like the rest of the region, Myanmar is at crossroads and undergoing a lot of pressure for development after 50 years of isolation with large foreign investments pouring in. In this time of historic change, I consider it to be my life’s calling to help shape my country’s economic and environmental future.

Nwe, Mya. “Celebrating women in conservation: Mya Nwe.” WWF,  https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/celebrating-women-in-conservation-mya-nwe

Sidonie Asseme: Cameroon

Photo by Michael Goldwater

As a park ranger in the forests of Cameroon, Sidonie Asseme has witnessed and experienced many unspeakable types of violence firsthand. Even going through training was an arduous process: “‘We went through a very challenging training,’ says Asseme. ‘There were times I felt like giving up, but that omniscient voice kept urging me to go on.'”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of her and her peers, they have detained 15 ivory poachers and continue to protect a variety of endangered species threatened by wildlife trade on the black market. As one of the few female rangers in the world, her bravery and tenacity in a male-dominated field certainly deserves to be celebrated.

“I was born in the forest and I feel a moral obligation to protect it and its wildlife, for humanity and for my kids…I hope to continue working as a game ranger for a long time. I love wearing this uniform.”

Ruggiero, Sarah. “Despite Danger, Cameroonian Ranger Asseme Still Dedicated to Her Calling.” WWF, https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/despite-danger-cameroonian-ranger-asseme-still-dedicated-to-her-calling

Nilanga Jayasinghe: Sri Lanka

Photo by Femke Koopmans

As a Program Officer for Wildlife Conservation for WWF, Nilanga Jayasinghe oversees teams and partners in over 15 countries throughout Asia, helping to preserve Asian elephants, rhinos, tigers and snow leopards.

“I grew up in Sri Lanka where, over time, the sociable, intelligent hulks wove their way into my heart. Asian elephants are not only the engineers of the ecosystems they live in; they are also deeply intertwined with the history and culture of countries like Sri Lanka.”

“I am passionate about elephants. Conserving them and other species we share this world with is something I consider to be my life’s work.”

“The key thing to remember is that there’s no silver bullet for mediating human-elephant conflict. We must consider a variety of components like tools, technologies and techniques, engaging local stakeholders to resolve issues and ensuring better land-use planning, among others, to prevent and mitigate this conflict.”

Jayasinghe, Nilanga. “Learning to Live in Harmony with Asian Elephants.” WWF, https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/learning-to-live-in-harmony-with-asian-elephants

Vanessa Cárdenas: United States

Vanessa Cárdenas Director of WWF’s Climático

Vanessa Cárdenas is the director of WWF’s Latino outreach program in the United States. Like many life-long conservationists, she grew up playing outdoors.

“My best childhood memories are spending time outdoors. By US standards we were poor, but we were rich in nature. I spent countless hours atop a fig tree in my grandma’s yard, balancing on its vigorous branches to pluck the velvety fruit. Once I had my fill, I exchanged them with plumbs or apples from my neighbor’s yard. When not eating fruit, I was taking rhinoceros beetles off our corn plants or collecting roses from the yard. Walking to school meant crisscrossing lettuce, onions and potato fields and jumping over creeks lined with calla lily flowers.”

“Years later I found myself living in a suburb of Washington, DC. The apartment complex where my immigrant family lived included rows and rows of buildings which looked exactly the same, surrounded by concrete parking lots. The few trees around were not for climbing; the patches of green grass had warning signs to keep off them; and the most succulent fruits were usually found at grocery stores we couldn’t afford.”

“What does that have to do with my work today? Nowadays nature and its bounty have become a privilege for some while others are being displaced, getting sick, and losing jobs due to environmental degradation and contamination.”

“US Latinos, by virtue of their deep connections to the land and their countries of origin understand the threats we face as our natural resources are depleted globally. I am thankful for the childhood that I had. While I did not possess material things, I was able to grow healthy and free. Every kid deserves the same, regardless of where they live.”

Cárdenas, Vanessa. “Celebrating women in conservation: Vanessa Cárdenas.” WWF, https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/celebrating-women-in-conservation-vanessa-cardenas

Devi KC: Nepal

Photo by James Morgan

Devi KC is from Khata, a region sandwiched between Nepal and India where the densest population of tigers live alongside one-horned rhinos and elephants. Like many people in her community, she relies upon the forest to provide essential resources for her family.

“From the time I get up in the morning until about 10 at night, I am connected with nature. Me and nature—we have a good relationship.”

As a community health volunteer, she understands firsthand the connection between the welfare of people and their environment. She works every day to improve the health of community members and the environment, forging a more sustainable future for Khata.

“I want my friends and family to live long lives…If people are not healthy, they won’t have the energy for things like protecting the environment. I do not get money for doing any of this, but it gives me great satisfaction. I know people in my village appreciate it.”

Schwartz, Jill. “Life in Nepal: How a Tiny, Mountainous Country Became One of the World’s Biggest Conservation Successes for Wildlife – And for Rural Communities With Pressing Health Needs.” WWF, https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2014/articles/life-in-nepal

Gaura Devi and the women of the Chipko movement: India

Surviving members of the Chipko movement at the 30th anniversary (2004)./ Photo by Ceti (Wikimedia Commons)

Women such Gaura Devi formed the backbone of the Chipko forest movement (1973) in the Himalayas, which inspired non-violent protests and eco-feminism movements around the world. Their motto, “Our bodies before our trees” was often put into practice by the women who stood in front of trees to save them from loggers. In Hindu, “Chipko” means “to hug,” making these women the most significant “tree-huggers” in modern history.

Gaura Devi (1925 – 1991) was elected to lead the Mahila Mangal Dal (Women’s Welfare Association) during the height of the Chipko movement.

The movement came to a head in 1975, when the Indian Government auctioned off 2,500 trees in the Reni forest, an area overlooking the river which had suffered a devastating flood and landslide only five years before.

Aware of the imminent floods that would occur if the area was cut, Gaura Devi and other brave women intervened. At one point Guara Devi confronted one of the loggers, demanding that he shoot her instead of cutting down the forest, a place she called her “maika” or “her mother’s home.”

Thanks to their valiant efforts, the loggers were scared off and the Indian government banned all logging in Reni for a period of 10 years, protecting over 1150 square kilometers of forest. This ban was eventually extended for an additional 10 years in 1985.

Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) “embracing” a tree on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama./Photo by Suzi Eszterhas

Although sloths may be the original tree-huggers, it is thanks to the historic and continued efforts of these trailblazing women that we can benefit from healthy ecosystems and communities to this day. Here’s hoping many more activists follow in their footsteps as women continue to become a more integral part in the management of our planet’s precious resources.

  • Want to learn about other courageous female activists? Read more here.

Why Sloths Celebrate Spay Day

Why Sloths Celebrate Spay Day

Today we are celebrating World Spay Day, and we have some very exciting news to share with you!

Where we live and work, in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica, dogs are steadily becoming one of the biggest problems that wild sloths face. In fact, dogs are now the second leading cause of death for wild sloths. A big part of this stems from the fact that dogs are often left to roam unsupervised around the areas where sloths live. Not only are these dogs attacking sloths as they move between trees on the ground, but they are also creating another big problem – unwanted street puppies. If dogs are allowed to roam freely and they are also not spayed or neutered – this only continues to exacerbate the problem.

 

spay dog sloth
                                                                   Photo: PetBase

 

 

For the last year, we have been working closely with dog rescue organization Puerto Viejo Dogs and the veterinary clinic Arroyo & Solano to help spay & neuter dogs in the local community. Together we spayed and neutered over 120 dogs in 2020… but we want to do more!

 

dog sloth spay
One of the dogs we spayed last year!

 

Surveying the community

This year we are determined to reach more dogs, help more people and to make the South Caribbean a safer place for wildlife. 

To do this we are carrying out surveys in the local community to gain a deeper understanding of the differences in attitudes towards dog ownership and the role that dogs play (we can’t expect to fix a problem without properly understanding it first!).

One of the most important things that we want to learn is what local residents think the biggest problems with dogs are in their area. 

 

dog survey spay

 

As you can see from our results so far, the biggest problems people report are:

  1. Owners not being responsible with their pets
  2. Attacks on wildlife
  3. Dogs not being on a leash
  4. Stray dogs.

 

 

dog survey spay

When we look at what people think is the best solution, the top 2 answers we receive are: more castration campaigns (that are free or cheaper) and dog training courses. So this year, we are implementing both!

 

Spay and Neuter campaigns to reach every dog

Our aim this year is to run 4 major castration campaigns, particularly in low-income areas and indigenous communities. These campaigns will all be free or subsidized for the local people. 

We will also be running a castration campaign in Tortuguero; a remote town located in the North Caribbean of Costa Rica. This area is one of the top places for turtle nesting, particularly for the endangered green sea turtle.

 

turtle
Tortuguero Beach ©Adrian Hepworth

 

In Tortugero dogs are causing a big problem for local wildlife by attacking not only sloths, but also turtles and their eggs. We are working with local organizations in Tortuguero to spay and neuter 90 dogs this year!

Training our dogs to help sloths

Starting in March, we will be hosting the first dog training courses in the South Caribbean.

We are going to bring professional dog trainers into our community and we will specifically focus on large dogs, dog breeds that have a high prey drive, and dogs that have already attacked wildlife.

We hope that by giving people the right tools, access to training and castrations, we will be able to substantially reduce the number of dog attacks on wildlife in the region. 

 

road
When sloths are on the ground they are very vulnerable to dog attacks, and they can´t defend themselves against this.

 

Let’s celebrate Spay Day together!

While it may seem a bit strange for us to be celebrating Spay Day, helping dogs also means helping sloths! Through this project we are hopeful that we can further enhance the peaceful coexistence of humans and wildlife in Costa Rica, and ultimately create a safer world for sloths. 

If you would like to learn more about this project, you can find more information here

 

spay dog

 

Thank you so much for your continued support of all of our work, we couldn’t do it without you! 

 

-Sarah Kennedy

Director of Education & Outreach

Oh My Dog! Coordinator

 

 

2020 Annual Report

2020 Annual Report

A record-setting year for sloths!

In 2020 the sloth community raised a record-breaking $270,000 for sloth conservation, and as a result, we were able to educate more children, plant more trees, empower more people and help more sloths than ever before. 

 

sloth conservation report 2020

 

We are incredibly proud of everything that we have managed to achieve together, especially when we consider the unprecedented challenges that we all faced throughout this past year.

From our Sloth Crossing sponsors and Sloth Adopters to one-time donors who gave a special gift during the holiday season – every single supporter played a vital role in making 2020 our most successful year yet.

 

We understand that it is important for you to know that your donations are being used in the most effective way possible to help sloths. For that reason, we are committed to always being completely transparent with our accounts, operations, successes, and failures. 
We are so proud to present our latest Annual Report – click the link below to see a full breakdown of everything that happened for Team Sloth in 2020!

2020 ANNUAL REPORT

 

2020 was a big year for us, but we believe this is only the beginning of what we can accomplish together. 

We are absolutely determined to see the day when sloth populations are healthy and thriving. Where sloths everywhere are sustained by healthy and connected rainforests, and people are able to live in harmony with the natural world that surrounds them. 

We can’t wait to celebrate that day with you.

 

cute baby sloths suzi eszterhas

 

-Dr. Rebecca Cliffe

Founder and Executive Director

Giving Tuesday with the sloths!

Giving Tuesday with the sloths!

Giving Tuesday is finally here and the festive season is just around the corner (doesn’t it feel like 2020 has somehow been both the fastest and the slowest year ever?). We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for supporting us throughout this difficult time.

Despite the challenges faced in 2020, we have managed to continue running, growing and expanding all of our sloth conservation programs – and also supporting the local community here in Costa Rica!

A year to give back

Earlier this year we celebrated #GivingTuesdayNow – a global day of giving as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. We took this opportunity to provide emergency assistance to local families in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica to ensure they have access to essential resources. 

By helping local communities and prioritizing their needs during difficult times, we are able to build trust and utilize indigenous knowledge, which in turn has a positive influence on our conservation outcomes. Protecting sloths means protecting people!

 

giving tuesday

This year we want to highlight the people who have helped us to create a better world for sloths!

Doing science with the community

We believe that engaging local communities in wildlife conservation efforts are critical for the success of projects. Not only are these people the ones that depend on the local environment, but due to their proximity and unrivaled knowledge of wildlife, they are also well placed to participate in conservation efforts.

 

From tree-cutter to tree-connecter

This is Adolfo Gimenez, a.k.a. “Gallo”, our tree climber and Sloth Crossing installer! Gallo used to work as a tree surgeon – trimming and cutting down trees, but now he spends his days working with Team Sloth to reconnect the rainforest with artificial wildlife bridges!

A story of hardship and resilience

Although protecting sloths may seem like a narrow focus, conservation involves the whole community, often in unexpected ways. In the video below, Diego, our forest nursery manager, tells us his story during this complicated year.

 

Together we have managed to achieve remarkable things for sloths in 2020!

While this year continues to present us with unforeseen challenges, here in Costa Rica we are more focused than ever on our mission to safeguard a future for sloths. Our shared compassion and determination are giving us the strength and motivation to battle on through these difficult times.  

This is an important day for non-profit organizations everywhere, and we wanted to personally take this opportunity to let you know how much your support means to us.

We couldn’t do any of this without your kindness and generosity, so thank you for helping us to make 2020 a truly wonderful year for sloth conservation! Join us on Team Sloth and we will double these achievements (and more!) in 2021!

 

giving tuesday sloths

 

 

Celebrating International Day of the Girl with Team Sloth

Celebrating International Day of the Girl with Team Sloth

October 11th is International Day of the Girl. This is a day to recognize the issues that girls face globally and to break down barriers to their empowerment and success. This year the motto is “My voice, our equal future“: a call to action that emphasizes how the well-being of humanity and the planet depends upon the future of girls.

Conservation is inextricably linked to the welfare of girls and women. They are often responsible for providing life-giving resources to the family and therefore interact closely with the environment on a daily basis. In Africa, women manage 90% of their households’ water and fuel needs. In South Asia, 70% of employed women work in agriculture. But despite their strong connection to the natural world, less than 20% of world’s landowners are women.

woman farmer rice fields
A woman planting rice in the paddy fields of the island of Don Puay, Laos/Photo: Basile Morin/CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Forging another path

Attaining equal rights for women and girls may seem like a thing of the past, when all the countries in the world (with the exception of Vatican City) have made it legal for women to vote. However barriers to women participating in democracy still abound. In Pakistan for example, although the polls are technically open to women, many women face violence when trying to cast their vote or are prevented from voting by men and village leaders. This problem has its roots in childhood, when girls, such as Malala, are denied access to education. As a result, women make up 2/3 of the world’s illiterate people.

The default “life plan” for many girls around the globe is find a partner and raise children. Although an admirable endeavor, it is often their only choice. When girls are given access to education and granted the same opportunities as their male peers, doors they didn’t know existed are suddenly opened to them. Educating girls creates a ripple effect that can be felt globally. Among its many positive impacts, education leads to improvements in family planning, thus slowing the pace of population growth, improving the health of children, and paving the way for a more just and sustainable society.

community-outreach education girls
Teaching girls about sloths and the natural world is pivotal to the success of community-based conservation/Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp3R6aylDH4

Girls in conservation

Despite the increasing popularity of biology and ecology among women, they are still underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields . They are particularly absent from leadership positions in science, bumping up against glass ceilings and other obstacles to getting promoted.

To address this issue, the Girl Scoutsfoster female leadership from a young age: helping girls to build the skills and the confidence to take matters into their own hands.

So in honor of International Day of the Girl, we would like to highlight the incredible work of these young female conservationists.

Our Director of Education and Outreach, Sarah Kennedy has been engaging with the Girl Scouts through educational zoom sessions about sloths. Concerned by the various problems that sloths face, several of the girl scouts took the initiative to create videos to raise awareness about sloths.

girl scout education youth activism
Girl scout speaking up for sloths and what we can do to help them/Video: Robin and the Girl Scouts of Troop SU 52-07

Troubled by the lack of opportunities for women and girls in her field, the incredibly talented wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas started the organization Girls Who Click: a mentorship program to give girls the tools and the guidance they need to become photographers and conservationists.

girls conservation education photography
Suzi Eszterhas mentoring a young female photographer through her Girls Who Click program./Video: https://girlswhoclick.org/our-vision-mission/

Given the right guidance and the space to take up the spotlight, girls can begin to flourish. With a little encouragement, the way that girls perceive themselves and their role in society begins to transform and as a result the world around them.

Female-powered Team Sloth

SloCo is largely powered by women, from our Founder and Executive Director Dr. Rebecca Cliffe to our predominantly female Team Sloth. Having been girls ourselves we understand what kinds of obstacles exist for women and girls, especially in science. International Day of the Girl is an opportunity to take stock of how far we’ve come, and ask ourselves: how can we continue to empower the next generation of women?

sloth mother baby two-toed sloth
Sloth mothers are a force to be reckoned with, teaching their babies what it takes to be a sloth for a full year./Photo: Suzi Eszterhas