Sloth Crossings Update: More Wildlife seen on Bridges + Our First Installation
Our first bridge in Tortuguero!
Building bridges in Tortuguero was an important milestone for the Sloth Crossing team because it was the first time we installed the bridges all by ourselves. Before that, we used to hire climbers from outside the organization. This made bridge building a bit complicated since we had to depend on their availability.
Over the past 6 months, we took a professional climbing course, bought our own climbing equipment, and practiced a lot. Between Diego, Tamara, Francisco, and myself we logged hundreds of hours of climbing practice.
Although it rained almost the entire time, and these were the first bridges that Team Sloth had installed entirely on our own, we didn’t let these factors deter us.
By the end of four days there, we had installed six sloth crossings! We even installed a Sloth Crossing across the entrance to the Tortuguero National Park!
Now we are much more in the swing of installing Sloth Crossings and have installed 23 bridges together!
Since we have all been trained in single-rope accession climbing we switch off who climbs the tree to tie off the bridge, but it is certainly a group effort.
And just after two weeks of installing our first Sloth Crossing in Tortuguero, we received this video of monkeys using the bridge!
Connecting the coastal line
After we returned from Tortuguero, we heard the incredible news that we had received permission from the Municipality of Talamanca to install Sloth Crossings along the Maritime Zone.
The Maritime Zone is a public, protected area along the coastline, which is a vital refuge for many types of wildlife, especially two-fingered sloths, who eat the beach almond trees that grow in the sandy soil.
Elated, we got to work straight away and have installed 16 bridges since we received permission at the beginning of June.
We installed these sloth crossings across gaps in the canopy that had been created due to some illegal cutting and several big storms.
By installing Sloth Crossings, we are able to restore connectivity along 1km of coastline and reinforce this important biological corridor for wildlife in the area.
Slowly but surely
We received word that a three-fingered sloth with a baby was using the bridge at the Tasty Dayz Hostel a few weeks ago. This is very special since this was the first Sloth Crossing we built in 2019!
As long as the Sloth Crossing project keeps growing, we have more evidence that it takes some time for sloths to start using the bridges.
Now, this three-fingered mom and baby regularly use this Sloth Crossing to access a Cecropia tree on the property.
The following GIF is from footage that one of the property owners sent us last week of a three-fingered sloth using the bridge!
In this footage, we can see them feeding on the tree while hanging from the rope bridge.
A two-fingered sloth was spotted using a bridge at Faith Glamping! We originally installed the bridge at Faith Glamping in honor of a baby howler monkey that had fallen to its death when their mother was trying to jump across a large gap in the canopy. You can see the Instagram story here.
In the following picture, you can see a two-fingered sloth using one of the bridges we installed in the neighboring town of Cahuita:
Creating lasting connections
None of this work would be possible without the support from you.
Thanks to the kind property owners that have opened up their homes to us and people from around the globe that have supported our work and made this Sloth Crossings Program possible.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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
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!
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!
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!
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
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
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
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!
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 reallyhave an impact.
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.
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.
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!
Director of Education and Outreach
Oh My Dog! Manager