Rainbow month

Rainbow month

As a conservationist, I find myself thinking a lot about the word “diversity”. Concerning nature, the word is “biodiversity”, and we use it as a proxy for the health of ecosystems.

This refers not only to the types of plants and animals in an area, but also their genetic diversity, which produces the strongest, healthiest, and most adaptable organisms, as well as the types of landscapes they inhabit and adapt to. Diversity leads to resilience, and it is the reason we, and every other living thing on the planet exist. It is why we have fireflies that glow in the dark, and whales that sing across oceans, and feathery fractal ferns that drink water out of the air. It is the reason we have trees that live for millennia, oysters that make their own gemstones, and a fruit called a peacotum (which is what you get when you cross a plum with a peach with an apricot, and it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds).

 

 

 

Humans come up with a lot of strange ideas. Some of them are so strange that they make no sense at all out of context, and when I’m not pondering the etymology of the word “diversity” (from the Latin divertere, meaning “to face both ways”, for those of you curious) I wonder how humans came up with all these diverse ideas. Sometimes it helps to think of ideas as if they were living things. After all, they reproduce if we choose to share them with others, and they live in the context of other ideas, thoughts, and habits. We call this collection of self-replicating ideas a culture.

If a culture is an ecosystem of ideas, do the same rules for creating health, wonder, and resilience apply? What does it mean to cultivate diversity?

As a queer person, I find myself thinking a lot about rainbows. Not just because it’s Pride month and they’re everywhere, but what our flag represents: a spectrum of light, an infinite gradation of colors we have a limited vocabulary for.

 

 

Nature exists along a spectrum. This doesn’t always sit with our human desire to neatly label everything, because nothing natural exists in a homogeneous little box. Just as we like to label every species, sub-species, and variants of sub-species, we also like to label each other and ourselves. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans: we put a plus sign after LGBTQ because the diversity of human gender and sexuality was threatening to run out of alphabet before we ran out of identities-don’t worry, it’s not a test designed to fail the un-woke! It’s there because the grand spectrum of human potential has more words to describe it than we have letters to list.

 

 

Labels can be helpful even when they are not perfect. No one label strictly defines us, none fully captures us, and we all have a collection of labels for ourselves vying for relevance in any given situation. This collection of labels is called “intersectionality” (from the word “intersect”, meaning a thing that passes through or comes together with another). We usually talk about intersectionality when we are talking about privilege and people’s advantages and disadvantages in society. Sex, gender, race, class, religion, ability… these labels and more go into the variance within us; they make us who we are as much as our genetics shape our physical body, and much like our genetics, our intersectionality benefits greatly from a healthy dose of diversity.

 

 

As a scientist, I find myself thinking a lot about the truth. What is it, and how do we find it? How do we generate new ideas, and create a culture that promotes scientific discovery? Science is a process that concerns itself greatly with what is repeatable and relevant; what is true. We are human. The truth is our sex, sexuality, and gender exist along a spectrum, and we are as diverse in our internal identities as external ones. A culture that values those truths will reap the benefits of the people who live them-after all, we will never recognize the truth outside of ourselves if we do not begin by being true to ourselves.

 

 

 

To all of my fellow queer conservationists, scientists, and nature lovers; to all of our friends, families, and allies; and to everyone willing to protect and celebrate diversity and authenticity: Happy Pride!

 

-Ames Reeder

Welcome to Sloth Town, a visual journey by Suzi Ezsterhas

Welcome to Sloth Town, a visual journey by Suzi Ezsterhas

 

Welcome to Sloth Town, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a brightly colored surf town in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica.  In Puerto Viejo, it is not uncommon to find sloths awkwardly climbing along fences or under the eaves, hanging out in bars, and generally making themselves at home. The locals like them. Traffic stops for them (when it can), tourists take pictures, and most of the locals have a wildlife rescue center on speed dial.

The town is more known for its surfing than for its scientists, there’s no industry other than a bit of tourism, and the roads are a mess. As the rate of development accelerates and the concrete jungle expands, the remaining trees are starting to disappear. The urban sloths of Puerto Viejo are losing the only things they need for survival.

The sloth mom at the Café

Stop in for a cup of coffee at Café Rico while admiring their resident, a wild sloth who often takes shelter in the café’s kitchen when it rains. Café Rico’s beloved sloth surprised everyone when she showed up on the kitchen shelf with a newborn baby. It boggled my mind that wild sloths could make themselves so at home in such urban environments in Puerto Viejo.

 

sloth mother on a shelf

 

Undoubtedly vulnerable, Café Rico’s sloth is fortunate to be surrounded by sloth-loving staff members that do their best to allow her to rest peacefully and quietly – wherever she wants. They don’t mind her climbing on the rafters, or hanging out above the bathroom sink. And much to the delight of  The Sloth Conservation Foundation, they bark fiercely at tourists that get too close to her

 

sloth next to tables

A town of dogs

In fragmented habitat, when sloths have to come to the ground to get from one patch of trees to the next they may encounter many dangers. Domestic dogs that are a danger to sloths include feral and free-ranging strays, as well as those that are cared for by humans as pets.

 

man walking a dog next to a sloth

 

And it’s not just sloths that are threatened by domestic dogs. Over 180 different species of wild animals are now threatened by dogs and at least 11 are now extinct because of our canine companions. After cats and rats, domestic dogs have become the third-most-damaging mammals – and yet this fact has received almost no media attention.

Tourists and Cantinas

Another danger to sloths when they come to the ground is harassment from tourists. Often these are well-meaning, sloth-loving travelers. In excitement (or often in an attempt to get the perfect selfie) they often crowd the animal, make a lot of noise and even reach out to touch the fur.

 

 

This is Nacho, one of the resident sloths at Tasty Waves Cantina, another sloth-loving business in Puerto Viejo. Nacho likes to feed on the almond trees surrounding the bar and the owners, Bryton and Lydia, make sure their patrons allow him to feed in peace. Tasty Waves is also a huge supporter of The Sloth Conservation Foundation and see the sloths as an integral part of local tourism. As much as Nacho is loved, Dr. Rebecca Cliffe suspects that his urban life brings hardship.

 

Nacho going down to his weekly poop dance.

Bizarre places to be

Dr. Rebecca Cliffe and I found some urban sloths in some pretty bizarre places but this one took the cake. The Sloth Conservation Foundation received a report from a community member that a sloth had crossed a very busy road and climbed into a fruit stand. We have no idea why the sloth went there but when we arrived we found her clinging to the sink faucet. As more and more sloths are displaced by deforestation, SloCo is finding them in random places in town.

 

sloth on a fruit stand

 

Around the world urban wildlife can be found living in some pretty filthy places and urban sloths are no exception. Several sloths live in the trees at the sewer in the town of Puerto Viejo. One would assume that these sloths are exposed to human pathogens and pollutants, but no one knows for sure. These sloths are being monitored by The Sloth Conservation Foundation’s Urban Sloth Project. In order to photograph them, I spent much time tromping around some truly disgusting and stinky areas, something that the SloCo team must endure every time they check in on them.

 

 

SloCo suspects that one of the reasons why the sloths are living there is because it is one of the few places in town with no humans. No human in their right mind, except for us crazy sloth people, would ever go to such a place

 

The saddest postcard

During my urban sloth shoots, we found sloths in some extraordinary situations and this was, by far, the saddest one. The Sloth Conservation Foundation received a report of a sloth sleeping in a crack between two buildings, one of which was an actual drug house. Miraculously this sloth was able to carve out an existence in this environment, feeding on the trees on the property and then sleeping in his little crack.

 

sloth between two buildings

Every hotel has a sloth

After hanging out in drug houses and sewers we finally found some urban sloths hanging out in nice places, including luxury hotels! Our favorite was a little boutique hotel next to the beach, not only because it was dreamy to hang out there but also because it was a kind of safe haven for the sloths living there. Guests often see sloths casually walking on the pathways and feeding in the many trees on the hotel’s property.

 

Scenes nobody prepares you to deal with

Working with urban wildlife is an emotional rollercoaster. This heartwarming scene very quickly turned devastating. Dr. Rebecca Cliffe and I were photographing a mother and baby sloth that were slowly climbing down a tree. We were so wrapped up in their adorableness that we didn’t notice two men creeping up behind us.

 

 

They were clearly very drunk, and aggressive, and started talking about taking my camera gear. We immediately started to retreat to the truck, and the men then turned on the mother sloth and began harassing her. They taunted her, yelled and screamed, and tried to fist pump her as she froze and put her arm up to defend herself and her baby (typical sloth behavior when threatened). When Becky and I tried to intervene they threatened us. They had machetes and we knew they were dangerous so we had no choice but to back off. Vehicles passing by were stopping briefly but no one was willing to help, due to the danger of the situation.

 

 

We of course called the police but knew they would take ages to respond. The men escalated to whipping the sloth with some kind of clothing or rag and at that point, I nearly had to physically restrain Becky from getting out of the truck and lunging at them. Luckily they eventually lost interest and wandered off, and the sloth climbed back up the tree to safety. Both mom and baby were physically unharmed but clearly traumatized

Heartbreaking development

One morning during my urban sloth shoot Dr. Rebecca Cliffe took me to meet some of her favorite sloths being studied in The Urban Sloth Project. We arrived to a horrific scene of all of their trees chopped down. Even more tragic, after searching we found a few of the sloths in the nearby area, now displaced and homeless.

 

deforestation habitat loss

 

One sloth was pacing back and forth on a power line, clearly distressed, with nowhere to go. Under Costa Rica’s Forestry Law, cutting down any tree requires permission from the government regardless if it is on private or public land, but this kind of illegal deforestation is occurring at an alarming pace in the South Caribbean. SloCo reports incidents like this, but sadly the government rarely takes action against the offenders.

 

sloth on a powerline

The Urban Sloth Project

As the rainforest canopy is replaced by corrugated tin rooftops, and houses grow where trees used to be, the planet’s slowest mammals are struggling to adapt and coexist in an increasingly urban world. In 2020 The Sloth Conservation Foundation began a five-year-long research called the Urban Sloth Project to study how urbanization affects sloths.

 

Dr rebecca cliffe with a sloth

 

“Humans aren’t going anywhere,” says Dr. Rebecca Cliffe. “We need to find ways for humans and sloths to coexist. Can we really live side by side? Can we give sloths the space they need and still provide for developing communities?”

 

-Suzi Eszterhas

Wildlife Photographer

SloCo Trustee

Dr. Rebecca Cliffe is one of the winners of the Future For Nature Award!

Dr. Rebecca Cliffe is one of the winners of the Future For Nature Award 2022!

The Future For Nature Foundation (FFN) supports promising young conservationists committed to protecting animals and plants in the wild. Each year the FFN Foundation chooses several candidates from a new generation of nature conservationists who are making a difference for the future of our natural world.

 

 

This year three leaders in the field of nature conservation, selected from more than 250 candidates, are the proud recipients of the 2022 FFN award: Tiasa Adhya from India, Gabriel Massocato from Brazil, and Rebecca Cliffe from Costa Rica. Each winner of this prestigious nature conservation prize receives 50,000 euros for their conservation projects.

 

 

Future For Nature Award

“The more I travel around the world, the more horrors I’m shown. But I have these reasons for hope. Which is the amazing human brain, the extraordinary resilience of nature and the indomitably human spirit, the people who tackle what seems hopeless and they won’t give up and they will succeed.”

–Dr. Jane Goodall, member of the FFN Board of Recommendation

 

Why we applied for this award

A big problem for sloth conservation is a lack of information about the status, distribution, and decline of wild populations, primarily because sloths are so difficult to visually detect. There are no official population counts and population trends are unknown.

We want to solve this problem by training the first-ever sloth Scat Detection Dog.  As sloths only defecate on the ground, this dog would help us locate their feces for genetic analysis, allowing us to accurately measure sloth populations in defined areas.

 

 

With this information, we can start to understand what is happening to sloth populations in different regions. We will know what conservation strategies are effective and we can work with the IUCN Specialist Group to assess the true conservation status of the six extant species.

Another major problem facing sloths is urbanization and human encroachment. People in poverty-stricken areas do not have the luxury of saving wildlife at the cost of their own opportunities, and we must find ways for humans and sloths to coexist.

 

How we’ll use the prize

 

The Sloth Conservation Foundation will use the award to start the Scat Detection Dog program, which will allow us to assess sloth populations in different regions and improve our targeted conservation strategies.

We will also use the award to create the first “Wildlife Safe Zones”. These areas will provide safe places for sloths to be reintroduced following rescue without moving individuals too far from their location of genetic origin, as well as provide models for sustainable human-wildlife coexistence.

We will work with local authorities, businesses, and landowners to provide infrastructure for insulated power lines, speed limits, wildlife bridges, and sterilization for local dogs. We also fund education for local schoolchildren that shows the value of wildlife conservation, economic opportunities associated with a healthy ecosystem, and the preservation of Costa Rica’s national icon.

 

-SloCo Team

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, when the world takes a moment to step back and commemorate the achievements, and activism of women. 

Well-behaved women rarely make history. –Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

 

Biography | Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

 

Too much of history has centered around erasing, denying, or minimizing the contributions of people who make up slightly more than half of the human race, and acting as if their achievements are some kind of aberration or new fad. They are not.

It takes courage to speak the truth and change the way the world works, but only by doing so can we build a better future. So, here’s to the women who “misbehaved” to make the world a better place—Cheers to that! 

Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologizing for my wild. –Nikita Gill

 

www.sonambulosediciones.com/media/uploads/nikit...

 

We here at SloCo do not believe that the wild, within us or outside of our door, is anything to apologize for. Nature has made each of us what we are: tree, sloth, wolf, or woman, we have each been optimized by three and a half billion years of evolution to be something unique, something amazing, and a part of the wilderness that is our origin and our home.

We don’t save the forests because they are a nice place to have on the other side of a window, but because they are a part of our hearts, minds, and spirit. So, here’s to the wild women—Cheers to that! 

Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher. –Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Robin Hood

The best part of working in conservation is the awesome people you work with. There is nothing better than working WITH others, cooperatively rather than competitively, towards a shared passion and goal. SloCo was founded by a woman and has retained many women in strong leadership roles in order to lead by example that achievement is not a zero-sum game.

This attitude is what makes SloCo’s community-based conservation initiatives so successful and so sustainable. So, here’s to the women who win, and who share their victories with others—Cheers to that!

 

There is a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up. –Malala Yousafzai

 

Malala Yousafzai y su lucha por el derecho a la educación

 

Sloths do not have voices—we must speak for them. The forest has no language—unless we learn to listen. When people and places are threatened with “development” that leaves no room for nature or diversity, no room for animals, individuals, or cultures to call home, it can feel very lonely.

When people stand up for what they believe in, not just for themselves but for others, we will find that the truth has a profound power to change the world for the better. So, here’s to the women who will not go quietly—Cheers to that!

 

How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. –Anne frank

 

Anne Frank - Biquipedia, a enciclopedia libre

 

The goals of social and environmental justice are long and far-reaching, but just because they are ambitious does not mean they are unachievable!

The future is not something you wait for, it is something you work for, and we are here to work for it, every single day. So here’s to the women who set the future in motion—Cheers to that!

-Ames Reeder

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

The community of Puerto Viejo came together to stop habitat loss

The community of Puerto Viejo came together to stop habitat loss

Over the last few weekends of December 2021, we and our sloth guardians in Puerto Viejo witnessed deforestation occurring in the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone (MTZ) of the South Caribbean – specifically between Selina Hostel and the Cocles viewpoint.

This spot may sound familiar, as it is the home of one of our Urban Sloths Luna and her big baby Sol. The MTZ is a 200m strip of public land along the coastline that is strictly regulated by the government; building, exploiting flora and fauna (which is what was occurring here), entrances from the road, etc, is only possible with the correct permits, which are very difficult to obtain. 

 

baby sloth luna sol

 

  • Read More: The Urban Sloth Project

 

This destruction began slowly on Saturday 11th December 2021 which rang alarm bells; as we all know, most government employees do not work on the weekends. There was no official government body to oversee the ‘pruning’ of low growing vegetation and undergrowth, as well as the felling of some healthy trees.

 

deforestation

 

We thought that was the end of it, as the undergrowth is cut back periodically for security purposes along the beach path. 

The situation becomes worse

However, on Saturday 18th December 2021, the South Caribbean community awoke to a greatly concerning scene. The destruction had intensified, now with more chainsaws to cut more healthy trees and driven hydraulic machinery to level the ground and fill it with gravel. 

 

deforestation

 

The community came together in outrage, including many influential members of the community, and reported these works to the authorities, specifically to the Public Force and SINAC. Hours later, SINAC responded, went to the site, and put a stop to the work when they found flagrant dismissal of MTZ regulations. 

 

 

A formal report was drawn up and sent to the Bribrí Prosecutor’s Office for alleged violations of various environmental and land-use legislation in Costa Rica.

These actions caused a serious environmental impact in that area, which is considered a Natural Heritage of the State and part of the MTZ.

 

deforestation

A gloomy picture

On 20th December 2021, SloCo staff visited the site to assess the extent of the damage. We found 15 sloths of both families crammed into the few remaining trees, all demonstrating abnormal behaviors. 

 

 

The sloths were very active. Multiple sloths were coming to the ground to fruitlessly search for another appropriate tree and attempting to cross the busy road because all tree connections were lost. 

 

A SINAC officer helping one of the sloths

 

Sloths are creatures of habit and these guys had just had their entire home destroyed – they were in great distress. We spotted Luna among them, sharing a guarumo tree with other sloths.

 

Luna
En esta imagen se puede aprecira sutilmente la antena del collar de Luna.

Development without destruction

We understand that in some cases certain types of public works may be necessary; however, all these must be carried out in strict adherence to the law, having carried out the associated environmental impact studies, and above all with an entire and great understanding of the ecosystem being interfered with.

In the last two years, we have seen a huge increase in construction in the South Caribbean, which is rapidly eliminating the coastal and inland ecosystems of Talamanca.

Unfortunately, the lack of intelligent planning and environmental awareness results in excessive systemic pressure on flora and fauna. These species will sadly pay the ultimate price for human intervention and destruction. 

 

Meet the Urban Sloths! 

Meet the Urban Sloths!

 

The Urban Sloth Project is our latest scientific research project concerning sloth ecology, studying how habitat urbanization is impacting sloth health and behavior. For the next five years, we’ll be monitoring  32 wild sloths: 16 three-fingered and 16 two-fingered sloths.

Some of them live in town, close to restaurants and parties, while others live by busy roads, and a lucky few are living the dream in healthy, untouched rainforest.

Today we’re not here to talk about the USP but to introduce you to the sloths we’ve been monitoring this year. Also check out which sloths you can symbolically adopt, either for yourself or as a gift to the sloth lover in your life! Our adoption program is a very important part of our conservation projects and helps promote scientific research to help sloths in the wild.

 

Croissant

Little Croissant was the Urban Sloth Project’s first three-fingered volunteer. Hailing from just outside of the main part of town, she lives behind a bakery that sells the most delicious pastries from which she gets her name.

 

 

Croissant has a laid-back attitude, which helped her keep from stressing out too much when we first fitted her with her tracking collar, and she’ll need all the mental fortitude she can get to deal with the deforestation occurring in her area.

 

 

She’s been chased from one home already by a new power line and has moved to a difficult-to-access swamp for her new chosen home range. Sneaky Croissant knows how to hide from power lines and sloth researchers alike, and keeps the tracking team on their toes!

adopt a sloth croissant
Adopt Croissant – Physical pack

Luna and Sol

Luna was an unexpected addition to our research program when Dr. Cliffe had to stop traffic for her and her then-dependent baby to cross a road safely. She quickly put a tracking collar on Luna and let her on her way, and we’ve been observing her ever since.

 

 

Luna’s son Sol has grown up and set up his own territory adjacent to his mothers, but we continue to track Luna in her territory bordered by the road and the beach. Luna is a beautiful three-fingered sloth who likes to find a good tree and stay in it for a few days. This habit–along with her proven tendency to raise adorable babies–ensures Luna is the darling of the tracking team, who are always happy to pay her a visit.

 

adopt a sloth
Luna and Sol – Virtual pack

 

Nacho

Nacho is a very urban Urban Sloth, who hangs out at bars and restaurants. First collared above Tasty Waves Cantina and named for our favorite dish, Nacho has kept the tracking team busy while he made his way to town and proceeded to patronize the local eateries.

 

This feisty two-fingered sloth is unafraid of human structures and is as likely to be found inside a rooftop or under a table as in a tree. When he does remember he is a wild animal, he likes to curl up in sea almonds or palm trees and catch a tropical breeze while humans wait for the happy hour.

 

 

 

Mango

Mango was rescued one stormy day in May when we accidentally discovered a damp little ball of fur huddled on the ground– cold, wet, and seemingly abandoned. With no mum in sight, he was paired up with SloCo’s stuffed sloth mascot (Jim), where little Mango warmed up and promptly fell asleep.

 

 

Once he woke up and dried off, we fitted him with a miniature baby sloth backpack and released him in a small patch of forest near SloCo HQ, where we are happy to report he has thrived ever since!

 

adopt a sloth

 

 

All of these sloths are available for virtual and physical adoption. If you choose the physical option, you’ll receive a printed adoption package plus a full-sized edition of the coffee-table book “Sloths: Life in the Slow Lane”, written by Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, with stunning photography by the world-renowned Suzi Eszterhas.

 

SLOTHS LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

There are more sloths!

Not yet up for adoption but still, meet the other furry members of the Urban Sloth Project.  If you subscribe to our VIP program we will send you monthly updates on ALL of them!

Alan

Named in honor of SloCo’s legal expert, Alan Elizondo Medina (who helped us to gain official charity status in Costa Rica), our most chilled-out little sloth lives an idyllic life at a local Eco Lodge in the South Caribbean. Kukula Lodge’s environmentally conscious owners have maintained a fantastic haven of trees throughout their property, which hosts Alan as well as a number of his friends.

 

alan sloth

 

When Alan stays near the lodge he is an easy sloth to track, since we have been tracking him for a long time and have learned most of his habits. Sometimes, though, this three-fingered boy likes to take off into the Cacao Forest that borders the property, and when he does he is nearly impossible to find until he is ready to emerge!

Baguette

Baguette was first found when the team rescued her from an isolated chain-link fence as she was trying to escape some dogs guarding a construction site.

 

VIP adoption

 

This clever three-fingered lady used to live in the same bakery-neighborhood as Croissant, but she responded to the rapid development and tree felling by taking off into a different swamp, where she can be found when she darn well wants to and at no other time.

 

adopt a sloth VIP subscription

 

Since then, clever Baguette has been a challenge for our tracking team, disappearing into impenetrable, swampy areas and very tall trees, but thankfully avoiding any further construction sites.

Arthur

The trees in Arthur’s territory are extremely tall with a beautifully connected canopy, courtesy of the property owners who maintain a healthy variety of trees to attract wildlife… and eco-friendly tourists.

 

VIP subscription

 

Handsome Arthur is an adult male three-fingered sloth with a nice orange speculum on his back. He can usually be found high in the top branches of the Chilamate trees he prefers, but it sometimes takes laying on the ground with a pair of binoculars to get a glimpse of him.

Arthur is tricky, but the tracking team is dedicated, and it has been a real privilege to see how he has integrated his territory with his urbanizing environment.

Receive updates about all our sloths!

For only $25 per month, you can become a VIP member and receive updates on ALL THE SLOTHS we are monitoring! You will have access to the biographies of Mango, Croissant, Nacho and Luna, plus historical biographies of previous sloths that were part of the ‘Backpack Project’, like Bojagles, or Ali and Jessica! Not to mention current photos, illustrations, exclusive Q&A sessions with Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, Ecology Coordinator Amelia Symeou, and more!

MORE SLOTHS in 2022

That’s right, we’re not done yet! In 2022 we’ll add more sloths to the Urban Sloth Project, and this means more biographies, more monitoring, more updates, new pictures, and more stories from the field!

1st International Sloth Fest!

1st International Sloth Fest!

International Sloth Day has been celebrated since 2010, helping to raise awareness about sloths, wildlife conservation, and the importance of taking it easy.

International Sloth Day on October 20th, is a holiday dedicated to raising awareness about the planet’s slowest mammals and the threats they are facing.

2021 is the first year since the inception of International Sloth Day that the sloth will be doubly celebrated with both its own holiday as well as its new status as Costa Rica’s national symbol.

Led by researcher Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, The Sloth Conservation Foundation has been working with the Costa Rican authorities to provide protection for these now considered threatened animals by the government. The sloth’s status as a Costa Rican national symbol was legally confirmed in July of this year.

Dr. Cliffe started the Sloth Conservation Foundation in 2016 to study sloths, fill in gaps in scientific knowledge, and preserve sloths from going extinct in the wild. In addition to acting as a consultant for a number of organizations and national governments, SloCo funds and publishes high-quality research related to sloth biology and ecology,  and develops community-based conservation strategies such as installing wildlife bridges, participating in reforestation efforts, providing veterinary assistance to stray dogs and wildlife, and offering educational outreach and opportunities to local school children.

SloCo will also be hosting the very first-ever International Sloth Festival, free to children and adults, on October 20th to celebrate sloths and educate the public in the town of Puerto Viejo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

The 1st International Sloth Fest will have booths and activities from SloCo and other local conservation organizations. It will feature an artist sloth-themed market, a kid’s corner, a photo booth, our mascot Siesta the Sloth, a fundraising raffle, live local reggae music, and take-away food and drinks. 

Interactive events include:

Chats and Q&A about sloths, SloCo’s projects, and other conservation initiatives

 –Kukula (sloth) Trails in which participants (accompanied by our tracking team) learn to use a radio receiver to find a tagged toy sloth.

Dog Olympics promoting responsible pet ownership, with an emphasis on keeping wildlife safe

Sloth-friendly tree giveaway

-Installation of a Sloth Crossing wildlife bridge.

Kid’s Corner with arts and craft projects, masks, face painting, and more

The 1st International Sloth Festival will be complying with all laws and safety recommendations set forth by the Costa Rican authorities! Participants will follow all health protocols, including face masks, hand washing, and social distancing.

Line-up

The Line-up will be happening both in situ and live stream on our social media channels, so people can participate in person or virtually:

 

international sloth day festival

 

}9 am –  Dog Olympics: show off your dog’s training and tricks to win prizes!

10 am –  Sloffee Hour @Caribeans: Meet team sloth! Q&A chat with Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, Amelia Symeou, and Cecilia Pamich about sloths and conservation.

11 amKukula Trail: Help us find the hidden tagged sloth toy and win a virtual adoption of Mango!

           – ‘Saving sloths by helping dogs’ chat with Anthony Vado Romero, Animal Behavior Specialist

12pm – Lunch Break

1 pm –The Urban Sloth Project chat: Studying the impact of urbanization on sloths’ chat with Ecology Coordinator Amelia Symeou and Project Coordinator Cecilia Pamich.

         – Kukula Trail II: Help us find the hidden tagged sloth toy and win a virtual adoption of Mango!

1.30 pm – ‘Sloth: the new national symbol’ chat with legislator Yorleny León, creator of the project that became law.

2 pmCurious & Odd Dog Appreciation activity: Celebrate pets with unique traits and abilities!

– ‘Connected Gardens: Learn the importance of urban reforestation’ with Francisco Rodriguez and Diego Elizondo

3 pmDog Olympics II

          –  Sloth Crossings wildlife bridges: Bridging the gap + Bridge installation demonstration

4 pm – Slow Raffle: Win more prizes!

            – Kukula Trail III: Help us find the hidden tagged sloth toy and win a virtual adoption of Mango!       

5 pmMad Elaine Live Music, reggae show

 

Special Thanks

Tasty Waves Cantina, Black Sand Realty, Wahoo Vacations, Rise Reality, Jungle Cuts, Big Mans Bagels, PV Bar de Vino, El Sol Del Caribe, Blue Youth, Coffee cups of Costa Rica, AmaSer Yoga, Choco Package, Kukula Lodge, GlowUp Media, La Paz Del Caribe, Patricia Arts, Enraizados Cerámica, Sueño Grande B&B, Innovali, Arte Vivo, Firespace PV, Manioura arte Tattoo, Dukur Coffee, Spretza, Figue’s Farm, Mad Elaine Music, Chicken Little Events.

 

internationl sloth day festival

The Origin of the National Symbol

The Origin of the National Symbol

Team Sloth contacted Jorge Carballo, the man responsible for the idea to declare sloths the national symbol for Costa Rica. Jorge grew surrounded by lush tropical forests and is passionate about nature.

Costa Rica is a paradise in so many respects. The fact that you can find wildlife in your backyard– toucans, monkeys, or sloths feeding or passing through—makes this country a special place. This is exactly how Jorge’s childhood was: a constant contact with nature and animals.

This love for nature eventually grew into the initiative that made sloths the latest national symbol of Costa Rica.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

 

cart costa rica

Jorge, tell us about yourself:

I was born in Limón, but I lived in Guápiles until I was 19 years old. Then I went to study Communication in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2010. I returned to Costa Rica about 3 – 4 months ago, and now I work for a tech company as a UX Researcher.

Where does your love for nature and sloths come from?

I think it is a product of the environment in which I grew up. From the proximity to the forests that I had for all of my childhood, the contents of my school, and the idiosyncrasy of a country that is entirely loaded with environmentalism. Coexistence with nature is part of the imagination of the Costa Rican. Perhaps this seed does not grow with the same strength in everyone, but the seed is there.

With sloths, this bond is sustained by their characteristics: they are non-aggressive, they are very pretty, they seem to be smiling, and they spend many hours sleeping. They are very noble animals. And their slowness makes them very funny. It is very difficult not to have sympathy for them. Sloths were always there “in the mountains”, and since I was in contact with those spaces, it was not uncommon for me to see them.

 

national symbol costa rica
Jorge and his brother Christian exploring the Caribbean forest

 

How did the idea of the sloth as a national symbol come about?

The idea was born from a tweet I read. This person said that the sloth had to be a national symbol, like a joke. Then I shared the tweet with a couple of people. That sparked a conversation, questions, and some research. Little by little the idea became more and more concrete, more solid.

I mentioned this idea to Congresswoman Yorleny León, whom I have known for more than 10 years, and she told me that I could count on her to support it. After a lot of work, the project finally became serious and it ended up national law. It’s amazing, I still can not believe it.

I was surrounded by people who worked with me, who added their effort and desire to make this happen. I definitely wouldn’t have done it alone.

How was the process to write the project?

It was definitely a challenge, but a very cute one. While I had some research and writing experience from my work, I had never done anything legal – legislative. Luckily I was surrounded by people who were able to go where my knowledge could not, and they offered me their full collaboration as if this project were also theirs; as if it belonged to everyone.

It was a project that involved a lot of learning and surprises about the animal. It was also really good learning how much sloths are loved in the world. It is not every day that we have the opportunity to work with something so beautiful and interesting. Maybe that is what made it easier to sit down on the weekends to work on the project: look up information, write, structure, revise, rewrite, look for more information, revise, and so on several times.

I also had Yorleny’s team and that gave me some peace of mind. I was not alone, I did not work alone. I had many advantages, many factors that worked in my favor, but I think what really made the difference was the seriousness with which the project was ultimately taken. That was the key. Going from a wish to a specific job that is now a national law. And that is truly a luxury. I am very happy to have participated in this.

 

Congresswoman Yorleny León Marchena national symbol
Congresswoman Yorleny León Marchena promoting the project

Why is it important to declare the sloth a national symbol?

Beyond the fact that it is a very beautiful animal, the decision was more strategic than whimsical. The context in which the project was presented was very favorable for its success. Today the sloth enjoys a level of acceptance and good publicity that no other animal in the country has.

That happens both inside and outside the country. The animal is associated with Costa Rica in the imagination of the people, although it also exists in other countries. The memes, the movies, the merchandise, the t-shirts that tourists wear, the comic strips in the newspapers, in short, sloths are everywhere.

So we had to do something. Costa Rica had to take advantage of this opportunity. That’s how this idea began to be conceived: the project had to bring together a number of positive factors to happen simultaneously, to achieve very good things. Good things not only for sloths but also for other animals and the space they inhabit, such as national tourism and environmental education of children in schools, scientists, and the world.

Because we are not only protecting the sloth, we are also creating a precedent to be replicated in other places. This is an experience open to be improved, a seed that can continue to grow.

 

 

How do you imagine that this declaration will benefit the conservation of sloths (and wildlife in general)?

I envision two large groups of benefits. The first, more abstract, would be the privileged place that sloths reaffirm in the imagination of the people. Now children are going to learn more about them in schools, older people will see them with more respect. They will never go unnoticed again. I do not remember that any other animal has received so much positive press in the country.

There are still people who do not know sloths exist. There are people who do not know that they exist in Costa Rica. There are people who do not know that what they thought was a leaf or a nest in the tree behind their house is a sloth, but now sloths are being recognized. Today with their faces they tell us “here we are” and now everyone knows it. And that’s good.

The second group would be the most concrete benefits. I am referring to those involving state institutions such as the Ministry of Environment (MINAE), MOPT, ICE and their specific actions such as protecting or expanding habitat areas, placing safe passages for wildlife on highways, and improving public electrical wiring to avoid electrocutions, just to mention a few. In summary, I hope for better living conditions for the sloth and consequently for many other animals.

What is your favorite species of sloth?

That is a difficult question. I have my favorites. Nationally, the three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is my favorite. I really like their faces, the shape of their noses, and the black lines in their eyes. Also, I like the hair. Internationally, I love the pygmy sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) in Panama. They are like a three-fingered mini version. They are endemic to an island and they are small, almost like a character from a legend. Unfortunately, they are endangered. Maybe the next project could be about the pygmy sloth.

 

What is your favorite fact about sloths?

I am struck by how modest they are when it comes to defecating. I say modest but there may be a more primary reason, more biological and less “cultural” or social, but it is very funny that they take the trouble to go down, make their hole, and after doing their thing, cover it. It is a risky activity because they can die from being exposed to predators that can reach them.

It is almost nonsense. But I think that regardless of how funny this data may be, I also like it because there is still no solid idea why they do it. That mystery seems powerful to me because it reminds us that despite all the advances we have made and all the research there are still things to discover, things to do.

 

 

The Sloth: A New National Symbol for Costa Rica

The Sloth: A New National Symbol for Costa Rica

National symbols are culturally created images to represent the country and preserve collective memories about these icons. Usually, these symbols include national anthems, flags, shields, animals, flowers, trees, national dishes, and languages.

Some of the most important national symbols of Costa Rica are the flag, the national shield, the flower ‘Guaria Morada, the Guanacaste tree, the white-tailed deer, the clay-colored thrush (Yigüirro), a percussion instrument called ‘Marimba’, coffee, and Manatees.

And now, thanks to the initiative of legislator Yorleny León Marchena, the sloth has recently become a new icon for the ‘Pura Vida’ country.

 

national symbol
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Already an icon

The sloth became an unofficial symbol many years ago. In a way, it does represent the spirit of the Costa Ricans, as expressed in the official document written by legislator Yorleny León Marchena. Just like sloths, Ticos (the local term for Costa Ricans) are known for their peaceful attitude, slow-paced life, and little stress. Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and the happiest in Latin America.

Sloths have long been used as the main ambassadors to promote tourism in Costa Rica, as you can see in this great promotion video featuring a three-fingered sloth as the main character:

 

 

The project of turning sloths into national symbols was the perfect opportunity to develop specific actions from the government and individuals to improve the lives of sloths in Costa Rica. So of course, we were ready to jump in and help.

 

Reasons to make the Sloth a National Symbol of Costa Rica

  • It creates awareness among Costa Ricans as well as foreign visitors to become aware of the importance of protecting our forests and their vulnerable inhabitants.
  • It would promote the creation of new wooded areas and the protection of existing ones, for the safe conservation of sloths and other wildlife.
  • It would help generate more tourism with an environmental emphasis.
  • Different reforestation and conservation strategies could be developed with state entities and/or private entities, from a new more targeted perspective.
  • It would encourage the planting of sloth-friendly tress such as the guarumo (Cecropia peltata), by individuals, in agricultural and semi-urban zones, thus restoring vital biological corridors.
  • It would promote scientific and medical research related not only to the sloth but to all living beings that inhabit the forested areas of the country. The ecosystems with the greatest amounts of trees are also some of the most poorly understood ecosystems in the world.

 

costa rica National Symbol
Copyright: Suzi Eszterhas

The Draft

When the idea of this project was revealed by the national media, we immediately contacted the legislator in charge to offer our insights and experience on sloths. Gladly, just a few days later, we were contacted by the Legislative Assembly.

The project encouraged the Ministry of Environment to watch for the populations of sloths, protect the areas where they live, and identify key areas for conservation. It required the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to help regulate speed limits in key areas.  The draft also included a special educational program to be implemented by the Ministry of Education.

Although the project proposal was already quite good, it lacked some concrete actions that we considered vital to protect sloths in the wild: it didn’t mention the main conservation problems for sloths in Costa Rica: lack of scientific research, electrocutions, and dog attacks.

 

camera trap crossing

Institutions involved

The following is a list of the institutions that were involved and provided suggestions to the legislators.

  • Cámara Nacional de Turismo (CANATUR) National Chamber of Tourism
  • Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) Costarrican Electricity Institute
  • Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) COstarrican Institute of Tourism
  • Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE) Ministry of Energy and Environment
  • Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP) Ministry of Education
  • Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT) Ministry of Transport and Public Infrastructure
  • Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC) National System of Protected areas
  • The Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo)

 

Our Suggestions

We wrote a list of suggestions based on our research and experience working in the field. Although we knew some of these suggestions would be complicated for a country like Costa Rica to enact, we had to give it a shot.

1) Supporting sloth science:

Because information on the ecology of sloths is scarce and in some cases, even basic data on natural history and ecological requirements are lacking, research and scientific knowledge are necessary for the creation and development of the best conservation strategies. Currently,  there are no accurate population counts of sloths in Costa Rica, making it difficult to determine the conservation status of both species in the country.

It is necessary to know the population trends through censuses, as well as to support studies on the genetics of the populations within the country. Therefore we suggested providing incentives of any kind for scientific studies, both from public and private institutions, such as universities, local governments, and/or non-governmental foundations.

 

costa rica national symbol
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

2) Insulating power lines:

Electrocution of wildlife is a big problem that particularly affects sloths: at least half of the animals electrocuted in the South Caribbean are sloths. The death rate after electrocution is very high. For this reason, we recommend prioritizing the isolation of existing single-phase, three-phase, and transformer lines by the company corresponding to each jurisdiction in areas where there is a high population density of sloths and considerable reports of electrocuted fauna.

 

power line electrocutions

 

3) Releasing rescued sloths:

Our latest research on sloth genetics reveals that there are differentiated populations, and some have been affected by translocations carried out by both MINAE and rescue centers. Sloths are estimated to account for nearly half of the mammals admitted to sanctuaries and rescue centers. For this reason, we consider it of utmost importance that the competent authorities, advised by experts on the subject, develop a coordinated, nationwide protocol for the rehabilitation and release of sloths.

 

Costa Rica national symbol
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

4) Creating a national database:

With regard to wildlife centers that admit injured and rescued animals, we proposed the creation of a national database where the statistics of these institutions would be made public. In this way, accurate information will be available on the number of sloths that enter these centers, and the reasons for their admissions. These comprehensive reports would create a more accurate picture of the issues that sloths face in particular areas in order to create consistent solutions.

 

costa rica national symbol
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

5) Addressing the issue of free-roaming dogs:

According to public statistics from some rescue centers, dog attacks on sloths are becoming a recurring cause of admission. This is why we suggested reinforcing compliance with current laws on pet ownership from the corresponding agencies. The uncontrolled free-roaming and stray dog ​​population are not only a public health problem in general but also directly affects sloths and wildlife. We suggested more education campaigns on responsible dog ownership, and more frequent large-scale spay and neuter campaigns, especially in the regions where this problem is more prevalent.

 

dog castration

 

The final project

FILE 22167 DECLARATION OF THE TWO-FINGERED SLOTH (CHOLOEPUS HOFFMANNI) AND THE THREE-FINGERED SLOTH (BRADYPUS VARIEGATUS) AS NATIONAL SYMBOLS OF THE WILDLIFE OF COSTA RICA

ARTICLE 1- Declaration

The two-fingered sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni) and three-fingered sloths (Bradypus variegatus) are declared national symbols of Costa Rica’s fauna and of the country’s commitment to protecting forests.

ARTICLE 2- Institutional competence

It corresponds to the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE):

a) To ensure the adequate conservation of the sloth populations existing in the Costa Rican territory and to ensure the proper protection of the natural habitat of this species, especially the restoration of river protection areas.

b) Define, through technical studies, the list of priority places and critical habitat for sloth connectivity, as well as their threats and the genetic status of the populations.

c) Enforce all laws and international conventions that are related to the conservation and protection of the sloth and its habitat.

 

deforestation

 

 

It corresponds to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT):

d) Promote the regulation of speed limits, of the different means of transport, in the vicinity of sites duly identified as sensitive for the free movement of sloths; both around protected areas and outside of them.

e) Implement aerial wildlife crossings on national routes based on the implementation of the Environmental Guide: Wildlife-Friendly Pathways.

f) Define, through technical studies, the list of priority places with the greatest amount of wildlife-vehicle collisions of sloths and other wildlife species.

g) Coordinate with the Municipalities the implementation of aerial wildlife crossings on cantonal roads and ensure that roads located in natural resource protection areas or that intersect wildlife passage routes must have adequate structures that facilitate freedom of movement.  Passing from one side of the road to the other, in the places where the studies so determine.

 

costa rica national symbol
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

It corresponds to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and private electricity companies:

h) Implement measures to reduce electrocutions with power lines, applying the Guide for the Prevention and Mitigation of Electrocutions of Wildlife by Power Lines in Costa Rica.

 

sloth on power line

ARTICLE 3- Education and awareness programs

The Higher Education Council, in coordination with the Ministry of Public Education, may include the protection of the sloth and its natural habitat in its educational and awareness programs. For this purpose, the Ministry of Environment and Energy and its decentralized bodies and its institutional departments may advise.
Other government institutions, non-governmental organizations, public and private companies may also develop initiatives that promote the conservation of sloths and their habitat, in accordance with the provisions of the current legal system, particularly Law No. 7554, Organic Law of the Environment, of October 4, 1995, Law No. 7317, Wildlife Conservation Law, of October 30, 1992 and their respective regulations.

 

teacher sloth booklet

ARTICLE 4- Responsible tourism

The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) may use the image of the sloth for its advertising campaigns, locally and internationally, in accordance with the provisions of the current legal system, particularly Law No. 7554, Organic Law of the Environment, of October 4, 1995, Law No. 7317, Wildlife Conservation Law, of October 30, 1992 and its respective regulations.
In addition, it may develop, in coordination with SINAC, actions, and protocols that promote good tourism practices that allow the protection and sustainable tourism with regard to sloth species.

 

sloth selfie

Conclusions

Most of our suggestions were considered: support for the scientific research support (Article 2, section b) and the prevention of electrocutions (Article 2, section h). It’s also thrilling to see the promotion of Sloth Crossings all over the country as well! (Article 2, section g).

According to the official document “the suggestions to include a sloth release protocol, the generation of databases, and the issue of pet management, specifically stray dogs,  was beyond the scope of the proposing legislator. However, those of us who signed this opinion consider that the general framework of the law does allows competent institutions to address these issues moving forward.”

 

beach almond national symbol costa rica
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

So even if these points were not specifically included in articles and sections, this is still some uplifting news!

An interesting point made by MINAE and SINAC is that although both species of sloths are listed by CITES as ‘Least Concern, both institutions consider sloths to be endangered in Costa Rica.

We consider this is a huge step in formally recognizing and promoting all the conservation efforts we were carrying for the past few years. We feel a new future is on the horizon for sloths in Costa Rica, and we’re extremely happy to be part of it.

 

-Cecilia Pamich

Chief Operations Officer