What to do in Sloth Paradise: 15 Top Activities in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

What to do in Sloth Paradise: 15 Top Activities in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: the beach town where the dress code is a bathing suit and flip-flops and no one is in a rush to go anywhere. It has more than paradise beaches, and in this list, we’ve selected for you the very best things to do in our little corner of the South Caribbean. Trust us, we did them all!

 

1. Visit the most beautiful beaches

Did you know in just a strip of 30km (18 miles) you can find all kinds of different Caribbean beaches? Here are our top recommendations:

Punta Uva & Arrecife: Considered one of the most beautiful beaches of the world with golden sands and spectacular palm trees, you definitely won’t want to miss this postcard-perfect photo opp.

 

 

Playa Chiquita: The name translates as “little beach” due to the narrow sand space between the ocean and the jungle. It’s less crowded than Punta Uva, but equally beautiful.

Playa Chiquita by Tito Cahuita

 

Cocles Beach: Easily visible from the road, Cocles is the hot spot for young locals, has the best surfing waves, and a picturesque island that you can swim to in good weather. A great beach for socializing and people-watching, Cocles also has easy access to many restaurants and fruit stands.

Cocles Beach is THE surf spot in the South Caribbean. Photo by Tito Cahuita

 

Playa Negra: The first beach you’ll see at the very entrance of Puerto Viejo, this beach is named for its warm black sands, which contrast beautifully with the jewel-toned ocean and deep green jungle.

playa negra south caribbean black beach
This old barge is one of the most famous postcards of Puerto Viejo. Photo: Tito Cahuita

 

Manzanillo: A smaller town to the south Puerto Viejo has golden beaches, including the famous Playa Grande, which comes with its very own shipwreck as of 2017!

Cahuita: With white sand beaches that extend right into the national park, Cahuita is famous for being the nesting site of leatherback and green sea turtles. It’s home to one of the largest coral reefs in Costa Rican waters.

Puerto Viejo town: There are many small beaches right around the downtown area, surrounded by coral reefs that provide a calm bay for the fishing boats and safe places to wade in the tidepools.

 

2. Rent a bike and cycle everywhere

Bikes are the main transportation in Puerto Viejo and you will see both locals and foreigners riding their beach cruisers everywhere. You can find bike rentals all over town and in pretty much all hotels and hostels. A beach bike rental costs around $6 USD for 24 hours, and trust us, this should be the first thing to do as soon as you get your feet in the South Caribbean.

3. Spot sloths and other wildlife

Looking for sloths in Costa Rica is a bit like searching for a needle in a needle stack–they’re everywhere, but they are not always easy to find. Read our Guide to Sloth Finding to master sloth spotting!

 

The Caribbean is also the place to visit if you like bird watching due to the lush and humid jungle: there are over 300 birds to be seen! You don’t even have to visit a national park to see them, you will hear a symphony of birds every morning; hummingbirds, toucans, parrots, and many more!

4. Visit wildlife rescue centers, sanctuaries, and other conservation organizations

There are also some wildlife rescue centers in the area that you can visit. You’ll get a chance to see some of the animals up close, and can feel good about helping them since these worthy causes are normally supported by admission fees.

great green macaw south caribbean

 

If you are interested in birds and conservation, check out the Ara Manzanillo, who dedicate their work to restoring the endangered great green macaws, which very nearly went extinct. Thanks to their heroic efforts, these beautiful flying rainbows can be seen (and heard) on a regular basis from Puerto Veijo down to Playa Grande. Don’t miss out on spotting these gorgeous birds!

5. Go snorkeling and diving

Although snorkeling isn’t doable all year long in the South Caribbean, this is an amazing area to snorkel when the weather conditions are right. The best time for snorkeling is in March, April, September, and October.

Playa Chiquita and Puerto Viejo downtown beaches are also good alternatives for this activity

Arrecife and  Cahuita National Park are home to some of the biggest coral reefs in Costa Rica, and also make excellent scuba diving spots where you can see tropical fish, turtles, coral, and lots of other marine animals!

6. Visit Cahuita and its National Park

Cahuita is another small town just 20 minutes away from Puerto Viejo, and it’s a vibrant place with an important Afro Caribbean history and cultural heritage.

Cahuita National Park is one of the most popular parks in Costa Rica and protects the largest coral reef in the country. The entrance to the park is free but we highly recommend leaving a donation that helps with the maintenance of the park.

A beautiful trail by the beach. Photo: Tito Cahuita

7. Visit Manzanillo and its wildlife refuge

Manzanillo town is located 12km (8 miles) from Puerto Viejo and can be reached by bike or bus. Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is located at the edge of town and protects an important mangrove swamp and lots of flora and fauna.

8. Hike in the jungle

  • Cahuita National Park is famous for its flat trail that is just over 8km (5 miles) long and runs along the shore of the white beaches. The park is perfect for swimming in the turquoise water, having lunch at the picnic tables next to the beach, and watching wildlife.
  • Starting at Gandoca-Manzanillo, you’ll find a 9 km (5 miles) trail to Punta Mona, which also boasts an off-the-grid permaculture farm. The landscape in this area is different from the scenery you see in Puerto Viejo or Cahuita, so bring your camera!
  • If you feel these hikes are too hard, try the 1500 metres (1 mile) trail that goes from Salsa Brava Beach in Puerto Viejo town to Cocles beach. This short trail goes by the beach and you’ll be able to see the resident howler monkeys and sloths living there!

9. Take a tour of the jungle… at night!

After the sun has set, the jungle becomes a different realm: the green yields to the darkness, and you have a unique opportunity to sense the rainforest in a different way. Frogs, toads, insects, spiders, snakes, raccoons, olingos, and more nocturnal creatures come out in the twilight realm. This experience is definitely not for everybody, but if you dare, you’ll have one memorable experience! (Do not do this alone, take a guided tour with an experienced professional!)

10. Take surf lessons

Surfing is big in Costa Rica and the Caribbean coast has surf conditions for most of the year. You can rent surfboards or take surf lessons right there on Cocles Beach.

caribbean surf
Surfing at Cocles Beach. Photo by Tito Cahuita

And if you’re a pro, or just crazy, you can ride one of the most famous waves of the Caribbean: the world-famous Salsa Brava, from January to March.

11. Visit an indigenous reserve

Take a break from the beaches for one day and learn about the Bribri people, the largest indigenous group in Costa Rica. They live more in the mountain areas and still retain their own culture, lifestyle, and traditions.

A tour to the Bribri Indigenous Reserve gives you an insight into the life of the indigenous people of Costa Rica. You will have the incredible opportunity to speak with a shaman, learn about how this community grows and processes chocolate, eat a traditional lunch, and you’ll get to walk through the jungle and learn all the uses they have for the plants that are native to this area.

We recommend booking a tour with the ethno-tourism specialist of Life Culture Travel, a tour agency founded and run by an indigenous woman. Indigenous tours are very valuable to the economy of these communities.

12. Raft one of the most beautiful rivers of the world

In a one-day tour based out of Puerto Viejo, you can raft over 30km (18 miles) of class III and IV rapids in the Pacuare River, considered to be one of the most gorgeous tropical rivers. This tour includes transportation, a certified guide, and meals. It cost around $ 90 USD per person, but it is worth every minute.

Fun and stunning views. Photo: Ríos Tropicales

13. Kayak at Punta Uva

Kayaking–who doesn’t love it? One of the best places to do so is the river in Punta Uva. You can see river turtles, kingfishers, herons, ducks, sloths, maybe even a sloth drinking from the river (or even swimming through it!), monkeys, and many other kinds of animals… all from the seat of your kayak.

This activity doesn’t require expertise. / Photo: Life Culture Travel

Just after you finish kayaking the Punta Uva river, you can go to the ocean and paddle above coral reefs while getting a nice view of one of the most beautiful beaches of the world from the ocean. You can rent the kayaks for $10-15 per hour directly on the beach.

14. Swim in the waterfalls

Just a few minutes from Puerto Viejo by car or bus is a lovely waterfall: spend a morning and picnic next to the refreshing waters of a tropical river.

waterfalls south caribbean
‘Cataratas Dos Aguas’ (Two waters waterfall) Is a few minutes from Puerto Viejo!. Photo: Tito Cahuita

15. Live the Caribbean life

Bribri and Spanish lessons, Afro Caribbean dance, Caribbean and indigenous cooking, medicinal plants tours, the history of cacao, ancestral chocolate recipes, the spiritual roots of the Bribri… you can learn everything from the local communities to better understand why this corner of the world is so unique and special!

Take home the flavors of the South Caribbean with cooking lessons! /Photo: Terraventuras

Stay safe!

Last but not least, tourist places can also attract bad guys with bad intentions. Just like everywhere else, stay aware and take precautions.

  • After dark, avoid the beach and travel in groups.
  • Pickpocketing is not usual in the South Caribbean, but always keep an eye on your belongings at the beach, even during the day.
  • And please, do not touch colorful insects or animals! Actually, don’t touch any animals, and most of all, do not pet the fuzzy caterpillars.

-Sloth Friendly Network

What you need to know about the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

What you need to know about the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

“Limón has its own identity,” said Markus Brown, whose family has lived in Punta Uva, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, for more than a century, “and we have to maintain the cultural aspects that make it different from the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica has its border with Panama in the southeast, and with Nicaragua in the northwest. The little beach town called Old Habour (Wolaba in patois) or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is located in the Province of Limon and is just 1 hour from the border to Panama, nestled between the Caribbean sea and the jungles of Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo reserve.

 

south caribbean
Aerial view of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon province. Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

The South Caribbean is a very special place with its own peculiarities: you’ll find not only different foods but different languages (English and Mekatelyu), different music (Reggae and Calypso),  different architecture (Victorian and Caribbean mix), and different customs.

 

 

1. Caribbean weather is never the same

Costa Ricans like to talk about the “Caribbean Summer”, which is due to the unique microclimate on the South Caribbean Coast. To say it very generally, in the Caribbean the weather is hot and humid all year round, in contrast to a very defined rainy, and dry season over on the Pacific Coast.

 

south caribbean
A stormy morning in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

 

The weather changes much more on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. You can wake up with amazing sunshine and just when you get ready for a beach day it starts pouring down within a few minutes. You never know when to expect a tropical rain shower here. The good news is that even the rain is warm. This is also why the Caribbean Coast always looks so green and brilliant.

 

2. Rice & beans, Rondon, Patty… Taste the Caribbean flavors!

If you are looking for fast food chains and industrialized food, you will not find any of those here. Instead, delicious and traditional Afro-Caribbean cuisine dominates the town. There are lots of different restaurants that offer fusion Caribbean food mixed with flavors from all over the world that were brought here thanks to the multicultural population of this beach town.

 

south caribbean food rice and beans
Traditional Rice n’ Beans. Photo: Visitcostarica.com

 

No matter whether you are looking for Italian, Mexican, middle eastern, or vegan food, there is definitely something for all tastes. There are still a lot of family-owned restaurants that have been offering their traditional cuisine for years and most of them are located just next to the Caribbean sea or nestled in the jungle.

 

3. Pura Vida!  – enjoy life to the fullest

“Pura Vida” can be literally translated as ‘pure life’, but it means so much more than that here in Costa Rica. Pura Vida can be used to say hello, goodbye, thank you, everything is cool, and much more.

 

Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

The Caribbean Coast is marked by a variety of nice, empty beaches, reggae music, and easygoing people that live the  “Pura Vida” life to the fullest. You won’t find any rude or stressed out people here as the local Caribbean energy helps everyone to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures that life brings us day by day. Once you arrive in the Caribbean you will get infected with this lifestyle and never want to leave!

 

Signs at Puerto Viejo’s bus station. Photo: @jus_schmidlin

4. Beaches, beaches, and more beaches

Throughout the region, you can explore an incredible variety of different beaches, all fringed by vibrant jungle. From rough surf beaches like Cocles Beach to beautiful little coral bays in Chiquita Beach and volcanic black sand at the Black Beach right at the entrance of Puerto Viejo. There is a little bit of everything and you will always find a spot where you are totally on your own, only surrounded by palms, sand, and jungle.

 

south caribbean costa rica
Aerial view of Cocles Beach and Island. Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

Another peculiarity of Puerto Viejo is that there are no big hotel resorts or chains here – only small accommodations that try to retain harmony with nature. This is why Puerto Viejo is not very developed or commercialized and keeps its charm of a little beach town and the community wants to keep it that way.

 

south caribbean costa rica caribeando
Photo: @caribeandocr

5. Nature and wildlife

It is not only beaches and good food that the Caribbean Coast is famous for, but also its abundance of wildlife and gorgeous nature. The location of Puerto Viejo, between the protected areas of Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge and Cahuita National Park, offers a home for a diversity of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and marine creatures.

 

red aye tree frog south caribbean costa rica
Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

 

Dolphins and sea turtles swim in the oceans, and you can find huge areas of pure jungle with trees that are over 100 years old, bustling with sloths, monkeys, wild cats, and other wildlife. But animals do not only live deep in the jungle, you can also find them in urban areas and it is not surprising that a sloth or a toucan might visit you in your hotel or while having dinner in a restaurant. Do not be frightened, just keep your distance and they will peacefully make their way through to the next tree. 

 

sloth at restaurant caribbean costa rica
Sloth at Cariblue Restaurant. Photo: Cariblue Beach & Jungle Resort

Read More: The Urban Sloth Project 

6. The sounds of the Caribbean

Puerto Viejo is a Reggae Town where descendants brought their culture and music over from Jamaica more than a hundred years ago. If you go to a local bar you will likely hear reggae and dancehall music playing, as well as dem bow.

 

 

The neighboring town of Cahuita is also the national cradle of Calypso: a famous Afro-Caribbean music genre that originated in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago in the 19th century. Cahuita is home to the legendary calypso singer-songwriter Walter Ferguson.

 

 

7. A melting pot of cultures

There is a fantastic variety of different cultures co-living in this small town. Indigenous communities like Bribri and Cabecar were the earliest in settling down several centuries ago, mainly living in their territories along the watercourses. Later in the 19th century, the afro descent population settled along the coast founding the town of Old Harbour (Puerto Viejo). In those days most people spoke English or Mekatelyu and only later converted to speaking Spanish.

 

A Bribri family working with cacao. Photo: Life, Culture & Travel Costa Rica

 

Nowadays the Caribbean Coast is still the most bi-lingual region of Costa Rica, with Costa Rican influence from other parts of the country growing, and arrivals of people from several countries of Latin America, Europe, and North America adding to the cultural mix.

Today it is estimated that over 40 different nationalities from all over the world live together in harmony in this little beach town! Just waiting in line at the bank or supermarket, you can often hear conversations in Bribri, Patois, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, French, or Chinese!

 

afro caribbean woman
Photo: Life Culture Travel Costa Rica

 

Due to this cultural mix, the tolerance in the South Caribbean is very high and it is one of the main reasons why the South Caribbean is also a popular chosen destination for people of the LBGTQ+ community.

“We came from Jamaica” – says Edwin Patterson, a local resident in the South Caribbean. “120 years ago my family arrived here, so we were foreigners once as well. Most of the people that live here are foreign. There’s nothing richer than cultural diversity. You can see it in Nature: You have guavas, cas, mango, and coconut trees. Without them, you don’t have the ingredients, the spark. All of us will be monotonous. Of all those cultures who came, we learned from them, and they learned from us.”

 

 

-Sloth Friendly Network Team

 

How to be a responsible traveler?

How to be a responsible traveler?

Responsible travel is not only caring about nature and the ecosystem, it is about being socially and culturally aware, understanding and respecting different cultures, customs, and traditions. It is about always trying to have a positive impact and minimize the negative impact as much as possible.

While the meanings of these terms sound similar to sustainable tourism, here it is the traveler who takes the initiative to be responsible.

1. Respect the culture and customs

We must keep in mind that the world is a diverse place and it is very important to respect the local customs, dress appropriately, and maybe even take some time to learn some of the local language (even if it is just ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’).

responsible travel indigenous man bribri costa rica
Bri bri man /Photo: Life, Culture & Travel Costa Rica

South Caribbean tip: There are different institutions that offer Spanish lessons as well as Caribbean cooking classes. Learning how to cook traditional coconut-based plates is a perfect activity for rainy days!

 

2. Buy local items

When you’re abroad, consider where you want to spend your money when it comes to meals, snacks, souvenirs, clothing, etc. One of the best ways to make a positive impact on the lives of the residents and local communities in the country you’re visiting is to purchase products that are locally grown/made. You are not only helping someone to create a better life for themselves or their family, but you will also have a much more authentic travel experience and will get to know their culture and traditions.

 

Bribri handcrafts

South Caribbean tip: Handicraft items are sold at the artisan feria located in downtown Puerto Viejo. If you take a tour to an indigenous Bribri or Cabecar Reserve, you can get original and beautiful handcrafts while helping the community.

 

3. Volunteering is great, but do some research first

Offering your time as a volunteer or donating money to good causes are great ways to be a responsible traveler. There are plenty of different ways to help, depending on your preferences and skills you can help kids to learn another language or sports, or help injured or rescued wildlife, but you must do a bit of research before engaging in these activities, to make sure the organization is real and does not make any profit or take away jobs from locals.

 

 

South Caribbean tip: If volunteering with an institution is a commitment that takes too much time, you can always spend an afternoon picking up litter from the beach! Every week different local groups organize trash campaigns you can join spontaneously! 

 

4. Watch your waste

In some countries, we might find a different education level involving recycling or minimizing waste. But it is even more important that we as travelers do some simple things to manage our waste, and ensure doing our best to be responsible.

Pack reusable bags or your backpack and say no to plastic bags from shops, eat and drink in the cafe rather than taking away your food and drinks (or use a KeepCup), do not use straws, and try to use natural products.

 

5. Leave no trace

You shouldn’t leave any footprint in the natural environment – whether you’re exploring the backcountry, a rainforest, or a city. This also includes respect for wildlife – don’t deface property, walk on the signed paths, don’t take any seashells or other natural plants or artifacts.

 

 

South Caribbean tip: It is important to know that in Costa Rica it is illegal to remove natural items, especially in protected areas like Cahuita National Park. Avoid a nasty moment at the airport!

 

6. Minimize your carbon footprint

We all know that when we travel we often have to use a plane to get somewhere, but you can lower the environmental impact of your travels at the destination itself. Use public transport instead of taxis. If it is short distances you can also walk or rent a bike, you can explore the area even better and it is good for your budget and your health too. 

 

 

South Caribbean tip: We highly recommend renting a bike and moving around the different beaches. We promise you the landscape is gorgeous and the road is flat all the way. Even if you’re not used to riding bikes, it won’t be difficult at all!

 

7. Choose sustainable tour operators

Choose a company that respects the environment and wildlife, and works with the community, to provide jobs to the local people or provide extra training for their staff. Some companies or tour operators donate a part of their money to NGOs, or pay their staff a bit more money than usual.

 

responsible tourism
Life Culture Travel is a local tour opertaor run by an indigenous woman. Don’t miss their indigenous territories tour!

 

South Caribbean tip: Check our certified ‘Sloth Friendly Network (SFN)’ businesses here.

8. Respect the wildlife

Don’t participate in any tours that promote cruelty towards animals with direct hands-on contact, (dolphin shows, riding elephants, cub petting). Wildlife tourism is big business and unfortunately, money comes before the well-being of the animals. If you are really interested in visiting a place that gives animals home or protects them, make sure you contact them and have a look if they are a registered organization and if they are transparent.

 

 

Regarding wildlife in their natural habitat, remember that it is illegal to feed wild animals, bait them with food or touch them. Always keep a safe distance, not only because you respect the animal but also because it is safer for you!

South Caribbean tip: Keep an eye out for monkeys or raccoons approaching you asking for food. They can get quite aggressive and will even steal your food or other belongings. 

9. Sustainable accommodations

Opt for guesthouses, ecolodges, or other small accommodations that have been approved by reputed establishments and choose those rather than massive resorts. There are a lot of accommodations that are built in harmony with nature.

 

This is a lovely and sustainable cabin in the middle of the Jungle. Photo: Colina Secreta – Glamping & Villas

Make sure that they hire local people and treat them well, that they follow sustainable practices like recycling waste, water conservation, reusing towels, and using ecological soaps/shampoos.

South Caribbean tip: Check our Sloth Friendly Network listed certified accommodations here.

 

10. Combat overtourism

Overtourism is just that – too many tourists. Streets are overcrowded, local sites are packed, fragile natural sites are degraded, high rent prices push out locals, and traffic is gridlocked. There are unfortunately a huge amount of destinations that can’t keep up with the crowds visiting and their locals are getting fed up because these destinations have been focusing on growth rather than taking care of the negative impacts.

 

responsible travel south caribbean costa rica
A solitary beach, South Caribbean, Costa Rica. Photo: Life, Culture & Travel

 

The options to combat overtourism are visiting cities, countries, or sights that are less known and famous, or visiting places outside of peak season, so there will be fewer tourists around.

South Caribbean tip: Luckily, the South Caribbean is not affected by overtourism yet, you can enjoy absolutely empty beaches from March to June, and from September to November. Also, during these months it rains very little and the ocean is usually flat, Caribbean postcard-like. Double win! 

 

11. Don’t bargain so hard

Bargaining is a part of the culture in some regions, but we have to think of the bigger picture. Sometimes tourist pricing can seem unfair, but in reality, if you’re only being charged $1 or $2 more than a local would be, think about how far that extra bit of cash could go for the person you are dealing with. Just pay the money and leave the exchange with both parties having a smile on their face.

-Sloth Friendly Network Team

Sloths in the museum

Sloths in the museum

Recently we visited Costa Rica’s La Salle Museum of Natural History, located in the capital, San José. With over 65,000 specimens on exhibition, this is one of the most complete collections in Latin America.

One of our favorite exhibits was the Entomology area, where you can see over 8,000 amazing butterflies, including many Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho spp.) samples. The famous Blue Morpho Butterfly shares its habitat with three-fingered sloths, depending on Sangrillo trees (Pterocarpus officinalis) for survival.

 

butterfly exhibition
Butterflies from all over the world

 

The museum has a variety of sections, the main attraction being the paleontology exhibit featuring towering dinosaur skeletons replicas, which are a favorite for all ages. Surrounding the dino enclosure are walls of brilliant minerals and prehistoric fossilized invertebrates (corals, arthropods), and vertebrates (fish, reptiles, birds, mammals).

 

Photo: Museo Lasalle

The sloth, the bad, and the ugly.

The Mammals Exhibit has 400 taxidermy specimens of both local wildlife and non-native creatures. Taxidermy is the preservation of an animal’s skin over an armature or stuffing.

Natural history museums all over the world exhibit taxidermic animals as education tools, a way to record aspects of species. The majority of specimens are likely to have been prepared decades ago.

But be prepared… these specimens are likely to look very different from any taxidermic animals you may have seen before…

 

museum taxisermy

 

The word “taxidermy” comes from the Greek words “taxis” and “derma”, which means “arrangement” and “skin”. But seems like the arrangement of the skin of these animals hasn’t worked out quite as expected…

 

 

bad taxidermy sloth
Is it a sloth or a koala?

Aging is not good if you’re a taxidermied sloth

Most of the specimens on display at the Natural History Museum of Costa Rica are very old – some having been prepared over four decades ago!

Taxidermy techniques have changed greatly over the years, and unfortunately, animal specimens who were subjected to the older ‘stuffing’ methods have not stood the test of time.

 

taxidermy museum sloth
The face when your child has kept you up for 48 hours

 

These old representations are not in their best shape at all.  Nowadays, taxidermists implement ‘mounting’ methods, where the animal skins are removed and mounted on light wood or foam structures, and resulting in greater longevity for those pieces.

 

taxidermy museum sloth
To be honest, the hair of this one is fabulous!

A way to see extinct species

Some taxidermy mounts represent extinct or critically endangered species. The Smithsonian´s National Museum of Natural History house Martha, the last passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius).

The Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is unfortunately considered extinct and in Costa Rica, only inhabiting isolated regions of Central and South America due to habitat loss.

One of the museums’ most impressive taxidermic animals is the Harpy Eagle preying on a two-fingered Sloth (Choloepus Hoffmanni).  This is one of the largest eagles on the planet and relies on sloths for their diets.

Sadly, this Harpy Eagle will be the only chance most of us will have to see one. The sloth itself isn’t in our top ten worst taxidermic animals, in fact, the body of the sloth is highly accurate. It’s the undeniable side-eye that gets us.

 

harpy eagle museum taxidermy

 

 

How taxidermy helped Charles Darwin

This form of preserving specimens began in England in the 19th century. Tanning – turning an animal’s skin into preserved leather – was common back then. Through these methods, the preservation of cataloged species became possible and was a great tool for naturalists.

On his 1831 voyage on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin made his famous observations of the beak shape of finches across the Galapagos Islands.  He suggested that all had evolved from a common ancestor. Darwin preserved his Galapagos finches using the techniques John Edmonstone – a previously enslaved man from the Guyanas – taught him.

 

finches galapagos darwin
Finches specimens collected by Darwin. Natural History Museum

Preserving these specimens was crucial in support of his theory on the evolution of species through natural selection. You can see the specimens collected by Charles Darwin and Captain Fitz Roy at the Natural History Museum in London, England.

 

Visit and support your local Natural History Museum

While the pictures we show you in this article are not the gold standard of taxidermy, the truth is that Museo La Salle has a great variety of collections. If you’re visiting Costa Rica, you might consider spending a morning learning about the animals of this country. To be honest the entomology and mineral exhibits make the visit totally worth it!

 

 

Never miss the chance to go to your local Natural History Museum!

Sloth-friendly tourism: How to help sloths while traveling

Sloth-friendly tourism: How to help sloths while traveling

When it comes to tourism, sloths often get the short end of the stick. Sloths are at the top of the list of animals sought after for wildlife selfies. Due to their “celebrity status” they are often crowded by adoring fans and in extreme cases used as photo props for tourists.

The good news is, there are ways to travel that can actually benefit local wildlife, including sloths! But how can you tell which businesses and hotels have actually made meaningful changes to help wildlife and which ones only appear to be “green”?

three-toed sloth with baby eating leaves
Brown-throated three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and her less than one week old infant./Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Introducing the Sloth Friendly Network

Thankfully, travelers coming to the South Caribbean of Costa Rica will no longer have to guess which businesses are friendly to wildlife, because we have been developing a program to address this exact issue!

The Sloth Friendly Network (SFN) is an accreditation program to help concerned travelers make informed choices by highlighting local businesses that have been doing their upmost to help wildlife in the area.

The central aim of the program is to endorse sloth friendly tourism and responsible business ownership by engaging travelers and visitors as partners in conservation.

The South Caribbean is known for its wild and beautiful beaches. It is not uncommon to be basking in the warm Caribbean Sea while you watch a sloth starting to stir after its afternoon nap, munching on beach almond trees.

Perhaps you hear a group of howler monkeys calling in the distance. These unique creatures sharing these wonderful and wild spaces with us, make the South Caribbean a truly enchanting place to be. A place whose biodiversity draws millions of tourists from all over the world each year.

two-toed sloth sleeping in beach almond tree
A two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) dozing in a beach almond tree./Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Developing a sloth-friendly tourism

One of our primary concerns in developing the program was whether tourists prefer organizations that support wildlife conservation. TripAdvisor conducted a study which revealed that 62% of the respondents consider the local environment when choosing a hotel, restaurant, and means of transportation and 69 percent of respondents plan to make even more eco-friendly choices on their next trip.

However, would they be willing to pay slightly more to an organization that protects wildlife? While there are some surveys that have shown that people support environmentally friendly practices such as plastic reduction, water conservation, and carbon neutral commitments, there isn’t much research on people’s opinions on wildlife conservation.

In order to determine the importance of wildlife conservation to tourists, we created a survey with two simple questions:

1. When traveling, would you be more willing to book with a hotel/tour guide that supports conservation of local wildlife over other companies?

2. Would you be willing to spend more for a hotel/tour guide that supports conservation?

A third question on demographics was added to see if any meaningful patterns emerged: “What is your age range?”

Note: There was no significant connection between age and the respondent’s answer to either of the first two questions.

This survey indicates that there is a strong preference to support organizations that help protect local wildlife. Additionally, the responses indicate that the majority of people are willing to pay more.

The results of this survey are meaningful for those in the tourism industry as it suggests that by supporting the conservation of local wildlife, they could have a competitive advantage over other companies in the area.

Reaching out to local businesses

Armed with this new knowledge, we were able to make the case to local businesses that tourists truly care about wildlife conservation and are even willing to pay more to reduce the impact of their travel.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to start from scratch because we have had the privilege of working with many local hotels and businesses through our Connected Gardens program.

These organizations have supported our sloth conservation efforts by reconnecting habitat on their properties through Sloth Crossings and reforesting and helping to educate their clients by sharing our educational materials.

faith glamping
A sample of our educational materials shared to businesses certified by the Sloth Friendly Network such as Faith Glamping./Photo: Cecilia Pamich

Our first members of the Sloth Friendly Network!

We have had the honor of working with these wonderful individuals over the past couple of years and we are proud to officially recognize them as part of the Sloth Friendly Network. As our network grows and we continue to accredit local businesses and organizations in the area, we hope that this will be a useful resource for travelers who interested in wildlife-friendly tourism.

These photos are some of the highlights from our recent visits to drop off education materials (and the certificates of course!) to these Platinum members of the Sloth Friendly Network. Thank you so much for supporting sloth conservation and making it possible to coexist with wildlife in a mutually beneficial way!

Cariblue Beach and Jungle Resort

 

sloth-friendly tourism faith glamping costa rica
Faith Glamping Dome Costa Rica

 

sloth-friendly tourism Costa Rica Annanci Village
Annanci Village – Boutique Vacation & Retreat Accomodation

 

sloth-friendly tourism Costa Rica
Colina Secreta – Glamping and Villas

 

Stay tuned as we add more businesses! And if you ever have the chance to visit the South Caribbean of Costa Rica be sure to check out these awesome places!

 

 

-Jackie Lopez and Katra Laidlaw

The Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code

The Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code

Would you like to have your photograph taken with a sloth? A sloth selfie for social media? When considering a sloth encounter, the most important thing to remember is the slogan of the year: social distancing! 💚 Sloths are big supporters of the self-isolation lifestyle. As a solitary prey species they enjoy lots of personal space and become stressed out if anyone gets too close.

A lot of countries are slowly starting to lift their travel restrictions and people are beginning to think about possible post-pandemic vacations! Costa Rica is fast-emerging as one of the best places to visit for a safe, ecotourism adventure: not only because of the commitment of the local people to protecting wildlife, but also because of the awe-inspiring biodiversity, raw nature and fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities that the country offers.  With a world-renowned healthcare system, the authorities of Costa Rica are working hard to guarantee a safe experience for visitors when the borders re-open.

 

A sloth holding it’s arm out is not waving, doing yoga or asking for a hug. It is scared and it means that you are too close!

 

But let’s talk about sloths. If you visit Costa Rica you are almost guaranteed to see a sloth. In a National Park sloth viewing may be limited to staring at a small ball of fur at the top of a tall rainforest tree (a sloths preferred sleeping spot). However in urban areas sloths can easily be seen while crossing between trees on the ground, hanging from a power line or sleeping in an isolated tree at the side of the road.

At this point, you might be tempted to take a selfie photograph with the sloth for social media. It will make everyone back at home jealous. Maybe you will be tempted to reach out and touch the fur, just to see what it feels like. Or maybe someone else is already holding the sloth and they offer you the opportunity to have your photo taken with it. What should you do? 

To help you navigate this difficult decision we have created the Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code that you should follow whenever taking a picture with a sloth. As long as you stick to the code, you can be sure that you are making an ethical and informed decision that is not causing any harm to the animal.

 

sloth selfie code

 

1. Never pay to pet or hold a sloth!

This is the biggest thing to avoid (and a huge red flag) when taking pictures with wild animals. Behind the tourist trap encounter experiences that promote wildlife petting, there is a dark side of poaching, illegal wildlife trafficking and animal exploitation. Most people simply do not know the dark truth behind the animal encounter that they are experiencing. If they did, they certainly wouldn’t support it. Please check out the link below if you want to learn more about the dark side of the wildlife selfie industry.

 

sloth selfie

 

2. Social distancing and no touching!

Always keep a minimum distance of 2 meters/6 feet from a sloth. Always give wild animals plenty of space as you can make them scared, stressed and they can react aggressively. Touching or petting the sloth is a big NO. Don’t get fooled by those cute faces and slow movements: they can react quickly when threatened and a sloth bite is no joke!

 

social distance sloths
A group of happy tourists watching a sloth safely!

3. Don’t use the flash of your camera!

Nobody likes a flashing camera and sloths are no exception. When using the flash you could hurt their eyes! This rule applies to all animals, not only sloths.

 

4. Keep your selfie stick to yourself!

A sloth will view the selfie stick as an extension of your body – so please keep your distance even with all of your gadgets!

sloth selfie stick

 

5. Don’t bait the sloth with food

There is nothing in your backpack that is good for a sloth. Sloths feed on leaves – and they are surrounded by leaves in the trees that they live in. Always remember that you should never offer food to wildlife. You could be contributing to a dangerous change in the natural behavior of animals, not to mention that our human food can be really harmful for the health of the animals.

 

6. Don’t shout or disturb the sloth with loud noises

Always avoid making loud noises to attract the attention of animals – you will be scaring them! We know how exciting it can be to see a sloth (I cried when I saw one for the first time), but try to keep your voice down to avoid causing unnecessary stress.

distance
The first sloth I ever saw brought me to tears @Punta Uva, South Caribbean

 

7. Be a sloth hero: stop sloth harassment!

Now that you understand the rules of ethical sloth watching, you can help by sharing this knowledge with others. Most of the time people are not aware that their actions can disturb an animal. So whenever you see somebody harassing a sloth, you can gently explain to them why this is not OK  – you might even make a new friend!

In most countries direct contact with wild animals is prohibited by law, but this doesn’t mean that is doesn’t happen. Sometimes you will get offered an opportunity to take a picture or hold a wild animal on the side of the road for a few dollars. Please don’t ever do this as you will be encouraging the illegal wildlife trade. We don’t recommend that you confront these people as they can be dangerous, but you can always call the authorities or a local rescue center in the area.

 

wildlife selfie code

 

Here at SloCo we work to protect sloths in the wild, but we know that sloths are a part of the whole ecosystem. As a result, one of the best ways to help sloths is by helping to conserve the rainforests that they live in and all of the other species that they coexist with. Whether it is a sloth, a monkey, or a raccoon, you should always keep your distance and say no to wildlife selfies.

 

Spread the word!

A lot of people (including our friends and family) may not be aware of how wildlife encounters can be harmful to the animals that we are so enamored with. You can play an important role by talking to them and helping us to spread this information. Knowledge is power – the more people who understand the wildlife selfie code, the less sloths will be exploited for profit in countries like Costa Rica. Together we can end animal exploitation as photo props! 

wildlife selfie

-Cecilia Pamich

Field Operations Manager

 

Social distancing: learning from sloths

It is an unnerving time. The world watches with baited breath as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread and social distancing becomes the norm. Doubts about the stability of the future and concerns for our loved ones press on our mind making it difficult to think clearly.

To get the latest updates on the COVID-19 Situation: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd

 

As of March 18th, the first confirmed case of coronavirus was reported in Limon, an hour’s drive from where we are based in Puerto Viejo, Talamanca. We are entering a time that so many have already been experiencing, with lock-downs and uncertainty looming on the horizon.

Social distancing is difficult for a social species. Research has shown that strong social ties contribute to our overall health. The challenge in this time is to remain connected, while reducing the opportunities for the virus to pass from person to person.

As many are aware, COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, is a “new” type of coronavirus, the seventh one that we have come into contact with. The virus is a zoonotic disease or zoonoses, meaning that it passes from animals (vertebrate) to people.

SARS-CoV-2 was likely transmitted from wildlife to people at the Huanan wild animal market in Wuhan, China before making its way around the globe. According to a recent report published in Nature, although the exact animal source of SARS-CoV-2 remains uncertain, it highly resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins, meaning it likely mutated as a product of natural selection.

 

A pangolin being trafficked in Kuala Lumpur
Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51496830

 

According to the World Health Organization, “Over 30 new human pathogens have been detected in the last three decades, 75% of which have originated in animals.” Zoonoses have and continue to pose a huge threat. The SARS epidemic in 2002 originated from small mammals, MERS had its reservoir in dromedary camels, HIV from primates , and Ebola was likely transmitted from fruit bats, porcupines and primates.

In light of this pandemic, it has become clear that in addition to “social distancing” we all should be practicing “wildlife distancing.”

So what does wildlife distancing look like?

The appropriate distance between you and a wild animal is at least 2 meters (6 feet)

 

Fortunately, most wildlife (like pangolins and bats) pose no threat to human health when given the proper space in the wild. In fact, when left alone, they can actually help to reduce other pest populations. Bats are known for their ability to eat mosquitoes helping to reduce the population of the world’s deadliest animal to humans.

Wildlife distancing means preventing direct contact between wild animals and people. This can take the form of turning down wildlife selfies or carefully scrutinizing products before buying them. Wildlife distancing, in addition to social distancing, is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the emergence of future epidemics.

 

 

However, wildlife distancing goes beyond simply avoiding wildlife products and preventing interactions between people and wild animals. Any actions that help to slow or prevent the encroachment on the world’s last wild spaces not only reduces our risk for another pandemic, but also protects biodiversity, one of our greatest allies in the face of many global threats.

 

Still from Jungles episode of the Emmy ® Award winning series, Our Planet: https://www.ourplanet.com/en/

 

Although protecting biodiversity may seem counter intuitive given the current zoonoses wreaking havoc on the world, diverse ecosystems are key to resiliency. Our ecosystems provide us with a variety of vital services, air and water purification, the prevention of soil erosion, carbon storage, and food security. Tropical rainforests, like the Amazon, even have the incredible ability of generating its own rainfall.

Moreover, tropical rainforests have been the source of many life-saving medicines. For example, Quinine, discovered by the Quechua of Peru and Bolivia, was the first effective treatment against malaria. Vincristine and Vinblastine, come from the Madagascar Periwinkle, a flower native to the island, and are used to treat different types of cancer.

 

Quinine bark and Madagascar Periwinkle flower https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-642-27769-6_2638-2
https://eol.org/pages/581125

 

So if you are feeling helpless in this frightening time, consider how you can (from a safe distance) contribute to protecting the world’s biodiversity and promote wildlife distancing. The more we can spread awareness while minimizing the transmission of disease, and stay connected while remaining safe, the more likely we can minimize the impacts of this global pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.

Sloths are natural social distancers, preferring to remain isolated and camouflaged to reduce the chance of predation. Here at SloCo, we are taking a page from the sloth’s book, practicing distancing to keep us all safe.

 

We hope the same for you and your loved ones.

-Dr. Slocky

Author: Katra Laidlaw

Love and Respect for Sloths

Love and Respect for Sloths

Do you ever smile when you are anxious? Laugh when you feel uncomfortable? Often, our external appearances can be deceiving.

Remember the slow Loris? How many people used to mistake them holding up their arms as an adorable invitation to be tickled? As it turns out, when they lift their arms, they are preparing to rub a venomous gland underneath their arms and deliver a bite which can lead to anaphylactic shock and even death in humans.

 

The sloth’s calm demeanor can also be misleading.

In Costa Rica, the image of a “smiling” three-fingered sloth has become somewhat of a national symbol for the “Pura Vida” lifestyle of Ticos. You can find three-fingered sloths on t-shirts surfing, doing yoga, drinking beer, etc. The seemingly always relaxed, easy-going attitude of the sloth is what many people seek when visiting Costa Rica.

Check out the sloth t-shirts available at https://slothtoes.com/ (benefiting sloth conservation)

 

This love of sloths is a wonderful thing. However, loving sloths completely and respecting them for the wild animals they are requires a broadening of our affection for them. There are aspects of nature and wild animals that are incredibly stunning, and other realities that are appallingly brutal (i.e infanticide – a common reality that sloths and many other creatures face). Nature is full of symbiotic and competitive relationships.

Respect, Say NO to sloth yoga.

Loving sloths means respecting their wild side. Although it may seem from their docile appearance that they are ok with being held or are fine visiting yoga classes and tonight shows, they are ultimately wild animals with unique needs and wants independent of ours, meant for a life in the rainforest. 

Not only are these situations scientifically proven to be stressful for sloths, but they also normalize the idea that encounters like this are OK. The latest sloth yoga event to make headlines actually advertises the fact that paying guests can pet, feed and take a selfie with the sloth. This is despite there being plenty of information available online that details the dark side of these encounters. These events directly feed the “wildlife selfie” demand that is decimating wild sloth populations throughout South and Central America. It is the exploitation of a wild animal for profit and it needs to stop.

Somebody is benefiting from this arrangement, and it definitely isn’t the sloth. Photo: Tiffany Dollins

Just like there are parts of ourselves and others that we find difficult to accept, loving sloths unconditionally means accepting all parts of them.

And if you are a true sloth lover, it means keeping them out of yoga classes, out of the hands of tourists, and in the rainforest where they belong.

sloth respect
A sloth in it’s natural habitat – which is not a yoga studio, a petting zoo or a TV set.

 

-Katra Laidlaw

 

The Wildlife Selfie Problem

The Wildlife Selfie Problem

Animals all over the world are being exploited for hands-on wildlife encounters. We might think that a photo of us riding an elephant, swimming with a dolphin – or holding a sloth – will impress our friends and family. It will make everyone on our social media feed jealous. But at what cost? Some people do it for the experience rather than the wildlife selfie. We all want to know what it is like to feed a tiger cub or cuddle a monkey. We are tactile creatures and it is human nature to want to touch and pet animals.

Most people simply do not know the dark truth behind the animal encounter that they are experiencing. If they did, they certainly wouldn’t support it. That is why we are writing this blog. We want to raise awareness and to help people make better informed and ethical decisions in the future.

selfies with animals
Animals all over the world are being exploited and abused as photo opportunities.

There are 2 very real and very big problems with ALL human-wildlife encounters (and by wildlife we mean any species of wild animal anywhere in the world – even if it lives in a captive setting like a zoo, sanctuary, a house or a rescue facility):

 

#1. The impact on the animal

 

We won’t go into this in too much detail as it differs widely by species and circumstance. A quick google search will reveal the extent of the abuse that each animal species suffers for a hands-on encounter or wildlife selfie. The people offering these encounter opportunities will tell you anything that you want to hear about why that animal is there and how it loves human contact. In the case of sloths, they always use a variation of the same theme:

The sloth was rescued and is being cared for! Because it has been raised by / spent time with humans it likes human contact

This global excuse is used by rescue facilities as well as individuals and indigenous communities (with Honduras and Peru being major hot spots). They can be very convincing with the story, so watch out. Regardless of whether the animal was rescued or taken from the wild purposefully, we can tell you with 100% certainty that any form of direct human contact is damaging to the health of ALL sloths.

It has been scientifically proven that the mere approach of a human causes sloths to experience abnormal blood pressure reactions. These animals will often tolerate handling without struggling but it is stressful for them. Don’t let their placid nature and naturally happy facial expressions fool you. Sloths internalize all stress. Any reputable organisation that has a sloth will make sure that all visitors keep an absolute minimum distance of 2 meters away from the sloth.

The Ugly Picture

Always remember that you are NOT the only person receiving this opportunity. The animal in question will be offered to tens, if not hundreds, of people every single day. Here is just one example. The images below are a small selection retrieved from Instagram and TripAdvisor posts (within the last 2 months) from a center in Honduras. You can see that it is the exact same sloth being used in every photo – she has a very distinctive facial hair pattern.

This sloth is being passed around from person to person every single day. Cruise ships full of tourists on vacation visit this center and every single person wants to hold the sloth and have a picture taken. If you want to help us end the abuse, please send an email to the people responsible and ask them to stop allowing this to happen to the sloths in their care. You can also contact Carnival Cruises and ask them to stop facilitating the abuse of wildlife by offering this excursion

people holding sloths
One sloth being passed around hundreds of tourists as a photo prop is not acceptable. This sloth should be going through rehabilitation for release into the wild.

 

You don’t need to be touching the animal to cause stress.

Perhaps the sloth is wild and you see it crossing the road or hanging on a low-down branch? You think you can sneak in next to it and get the perfect selfie. Maybe if you touch it with a stick, shake the tree or make a noise then it will look at the camera? Since you aren’t actually holding the sloth is it OK? No. This is also unpleasant for the animal and sloths have been known to have miscarriages from the stress of these encounters. All of the sloths in these images with their arms raised are showing extreme signs of stress. Raising an arm like this makes the sloth look bigger which is a last-resort tactic when under attack.

A sloth holding it’s arm out is not waving, doing yoga or asking for a hug. It is scared and it means that you are too close!

 

#2 Photos on social media ‘normalize’ human-wildlife contact

 

70% of all sloth photos on social media show people holding, touching or using them as photo-prop accessories. Just make a quick Instagram search for #sloth or #slothselfie and you will see the extent of the problem for yourself. Unfortunately it is not just limited to sloths. Social media is flooded with photos of people interacting with wild animals in inappropriate ways. From feeding, petting and posing to riding, swimming and dancing.

Seeing these images every day ‘normalizes’ the behaviour. If someone is offered the opportunity to hold a sloth or ride an elephant then they think “well I have seen other people doing it so it must be OK”. It isn’t OK. It is an abusive epidemic and the only solution is to raise awareness and boycott the organisations and people who permit it.

 

Changing the Future

When we first started working with sloths 11 years ago, nobody knew the damaging effect that human contact had on these animals. We certainly didn’t realize how photos showing people holding or touching sloths could contribute to the wildlife selfie crisis that we see today. We live and we learn. Now that you are reading this article you can be fully aware moving forwards and perhaps you can make the conscious decision to edit your social media history accordingly (as we have all tried to do here at SloCo). The fewer images that are publicly out there that encourage the handling of wildlife the better!

This message also applies to celebrities and social media influencers who have a huge role to play in determining what people believe to be ‘acceptable’. Sloths being brought onto TV shows for the host to hug simply should not be happening. There is also a startling new craze for ‘sloth yoga‘ and ‘sloth swimming lessons‘, with sloths being paraded around yoga studios and dumped in swimming pools in the United States. Clearly someone is benefiting from that arrangement and it certainly isn’t the sloth. As tempting as it might seem to attend an event like that, please don’t!

celebrities sloth
Sloths should not be paraded around TV studios, and celebrities should not encourage hugging or petting wild animals.

 

Are there any exceptions?

 

Zookeepers, rescue center workers, biologists, veterinarians, scientists and conservationists may have good reason to have contact with wild animals. However it is not a good idea to post images of this on social media. A photo that shows work being carried out – an animal being rescued / released or undergoing a medical procedure, for example – would be OK. However, if it is a photo where you are posing with or holding the animal without a clear purpose then this crosses the blurry line of becoming a wildlife selfie and could possibly portray the wrong message.

sloths zoo
Sometimes the line between work and ‘wildlife selfie’ can be blurred. It’s always best to keep these images off social media.

 

The Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code:

sloth selfie code

1. Give the sloth lots of space!

If the distance between you and the sloth is less than 2 meters (including your arm and/or selfie stick) – back away and give the sloth some extra space!

2. Take photos without the flash of your camera

Sloths have very sensitive eyes to light. A bright camera flash can be scary and dangerous!

3. Make slow movements and keep the volume down

Sudden movements and loud noises will startle the sloth. Not only is this stressful for the sloth, but it will ruin your photos as the sloths response will likely be to freeze and hide it’s face.

4. Please never pet, hold or touch a sloth.

If someone ever offers you this opportunity then you can help us to prevent it from happening in the future by reporting the person / organisation to us (info@slothconservation.com) and the local authorities.

5. Keep it off social media

If you do have a photo that shows you holding a sloth that is not obviously for professional purposes – delete it from social media and help us to kill the growing demand for sloth selfies.

Tourism, selfies and animals: are you travelling responsibly?

Tourism, selfies, and animals: are you traveling responsibly?

The tourism industry is a huge business. By 2020 it is estimated that 1.5 billion people will be traveling the globe as tourists, but here we want to highlight a particular trend that is rapidly growing in popularity; ecotourism. As most of the human population now lives in urban environments,  surrounded by concrete jungles, they have easily become disconnected from nature and the wildlife that it contains.

Ecotourism and green tourism are gaining popularity because they offer an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in the landscape, adventure, sports, and of course animals. It allows us to get back to nature.

Ecotourism as a tool for conservation

Tourists arrive at a place looking for nature, this provides jobs and economic opportunities for local people, and thus local people make an effort to preserve the natural resource. A great example of this is the Pantanal in Brazil, where a new study published in Global Ecology and Conservation has revealed that jaguars are worth 60 times more to tourism than the cost the big cats inflict on ranchers.

 

www.pantanalsafaris.com
www.pantanalsafaris.com

Local communities are making the realization that jaguars are more profitable alive, and therefore ecotourism is starting to prevail above other economic activities that have a highly negative impact on the environment (such as logging, hunting or mining). It is a win for jaguars, a win for the environment, and of course a win for the local people.

The dark side of wildlife contact and sloth selfies

Of course, not everything is great when we mix tourism and animals, and many times visitors are not aware of the negative environmental impact that some tourist activities can produce. The international NGO World Animal Protection estimates that around 110 million people a year visit attractions that offer entertainment with wild animals.

This is a dangerous trend as over 550,000 wild animals are currently being held captive in order to supply the ever-increasing demand. In addition, photographs of people directly interacting with these wild animals often unintendedly endorse exploitation and mistreatment via social media.

 

The animals used have typically been snatched from their natural habitats, usually drugged, mutilated and are forced to survive in horrendous captive conditions.

 

(Note: Sloths do not sleep 20 hours!)

 

According to research completed by World Animal Protection (which counted the number of “selfies” showing people interacting with wild species that were published on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), since 2014 the number of photos showing people with wild animals increased by 292% on Instagram alone, and sadly more than 40% are photos where the person embraces, holds or interacts inappropriately with the animal.

 

selfie problem social media
Photo by Nicolas Reusens/Getty Images

 

 

Going to an exotic destination this summer?

The situation in Latin America in particular is very alarming. It was found that 17 of the 20 countries that are part of the region offer tourist attractions with wildlife. Of the 249 wildlife attractions identified, 54% offered direct contact with wild animals, 34% used food to attract the animals and 11% gave the opportunity to swim with them.

40% of the selfies were taken by people from the Western Hemisphere including the United States, The UK, and Canada. The situation is aggravated when celebrities share to their millions of followers their own photos hugging animals because some fans tend to emulate the behavior of their influencers.

 

justin bieber tiger
Justin Bieber with a more than probably sedated tiger

 

The curse of being cute, slow, and having a constant smile

The three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is one of the most “liked” creatures in social media, occupying 3rd place in the most photographed species worldwide. It is therefore not surprising that these sloths are one of the most desired species for tourist who travel to Latin American countries.

Due to the sloths’ delicate nature and physiology, they are very vulnerable to human contact and usually don´t survive more than a few weeks in these dreadful conditions of captivity and management.

Unfortunately 70% of sloth photos on Instagram show people hugging, holding or using them as accessories.

hug baby sloth
Baby sloths only need hugs provided by their mothers

 

Hugging selfies show animals as docile and friendly… And this makes people want them as pets.

The pictures of humans interacting with wildlife also encourage the idea that any species can be domesticated. Domestication is a very complex process, it took us more than 10.000 years to domesticate wolves into dogs! Certainly, you won´t domesticate a sloth or any wild species in a couple of years, even generations.

And finally, these activities encourage illegal wildlife trafficking, either for the purpose of ecotourism or to acquire them as pets. This is exacerbated in the case of the three-fingered sloth whose reaction to physical contact is to remain paralyzed, which makes it a convenient animal to pose with and take such photographs.

In addition, the sloth´s characteristic and perpetual “smile” is often mistakenly assumed to be an expression of joy or happiness, rather than a simple result of the animal´s facial musculature and coloration. As a result of all of this, it is wrongly believed that they are good animals to have as pets.

 

 

The regions that maintain the most “exotic pets” are the United States and the European Union. Sloths are the most trafficked animal from Colombia causing (along with other associated problems such as deforestation and loss of habitat) the decline of individuals in that country. You can read more about the pet trade issue in our previous Thinking about a pet sloth? blog entry.

 

dislike animal abuse

 

Some sloths might not be so adorable…

Another related problem is the predisposition to invade the space of the animal in protected areas or national parks. Members of SloCo in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica have been witnesses over the past years to people bothering animals, offering them food, and even breaking the branches to lower the sloths from trees.

The two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) differs from the three-fingered sloth in that it is capable of a fast and aggressive reaction, with long, sharp teeth that can cause a serious injury. By not realizing this defensive behavior of the animal, many people are also exposed to risks such as injuries or infection. In the following video, you can see how hard it is (0:40 min)  for professionals and rescuers to remove a sloth in an urban area.

 

The way we travel matters: Be a Responsible traveler

The campaign #IamResponsibleTraveller seeks to promote awareness about these issues. Never pay or participate in activities where you can hold or touch wildlife, avoid attending shows that exploit animals, and don’t purchase animal parts (“trinkets”) as souvenirs.

Being a responsible traveller is not only about being careful when you take a personal photograph without touching animals, it goes deeper than that.

I am responsible traveller

Consider travel as a learning opportunity

First of all, think of traveling as an incredible experience to understand other cultures, idiosyncrasies, being empathetic and not judgemental, and to connect with what makes us humans: the same fears, loves, and hopes. And with the threat of Climate Change and a mass extinction event happening right now, we as humans need to be connected more than ever in our history.

As we have seen, bad tourism can produce a lot of suffering and harm – so how can we make a positive impact in the places we visit? It’s actually quite simple: learn some greeting words in the local language, be respectful with the culture, buy local and handcrafted products, share stories with members of the community, appreciate and care for the environment, the animals, and the people… And always, apply the wildlife selfie code.

 

Wildlife Selfie Code
The best relationship with wildlife, is a long distance relationship.

Any small action can produce a big impact!

And when it comes to wildlife, visit shelters, rescue centers, and sanctuaries in order to support conservation initiatives to reintroduce animals back into the wild. You can even apply for volunteering (voluntourism?)! But always do your research about these places, make sure that the “rescue center” is not a facade or a tourist trap!

And of course, we highly recommend above all hiking and exploring the wild, and looking for the animals in their natural homes. After all, that´s the “real thing” and the best way to be in contact with nature.

But I still want to take a selfie with a sloth!

Ok, we understand, maybe a trip to the Amazon or the amazing rainforest of Costa Rica is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you really want to have a memento with your favorite animal. Just remember that you can still have a self-portrait without hurting the animal or being part of the awful industry that exploits them! Remember to always stick to the Selfie Code!

 

Sloth Selfie
And call the authorities if you see any animal exploitation

 

But what about my selfie stick?

Can I still use it to get my phone or camera to pose close to an animal? It won’t be ME next to the animal, just my device, so technically I’m not invading the personal space of the animal, right?… Well, you actually are.

selfie stick sloth
Not. Really.

 

When sloths open their arms like that, they are trying to look bigger, and they do this when they feel in danger, threatened of attacked. In other words, the sloth in the picture is showing a clear sign of stress. So even if you use an element like a selfie stick, you are still having direct contact with the animal. So keep it away too!

 

All of us together will make the difference to end animal cruelty

Incredible and ethical experiences of getting close to wildlife are possible. For example, you have the Pantanal in Brazil to see jaguars hunting caimans, or Costa Rica to see sea turtles nesting in Tortuguero, you can even birdwatch in the park of your city! All of these activities are regulated, so there is good tourism management in order to protect the environment and the resources. Make sure to always support sustainable tourist destinations, because YOU are the demand, so your choices are important.

 

Responsible traveller

 

But you still feel hopeless when you see the number of people participating in tourist attractions based on animal exploitation? We have some good news: a lot of people once aware of the abuse behind these attractions are willing to change. Most of them are animal lovers, and as soon as they know the damage that their actions can cause, they stop supporting these places. 

In the South Caribbean of Costa Rica, SloCo is raising awareness of these issues by establishing permanent signage in high tourist areas to promote responsible “sloth tourism”, and to educate people on what they should do if they see a sloth being offered for holding or photo opportunities. You can read more about in The Pet Trade and Sloth Tourism blog entry.

The way we changed Instagram

Thanks to over 250,000 supporters of the Selfie Code Campaign by WAP, Instagram launched a “content advisory page”, to educate users about the issues these photos cause for wild animals. When users search for hashtags like #slothselfie, they will be presented with a warning message that tells them the “funny” selfies and photos they are searching for may be associated with encouraging harmful activities to animals.

The world is changing – fewer people support shows involving animals for entertainment and zoos are becoming scientific centers and sanctuaries. Tourism will change too: it is developing not to be a shallow activity, but to make people come together, to connect us with our humanity and with nature, that after all, is everything our civilization is standing on. So go on your vacations, enjoy your destination, and love the animals and the people!

 

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#IamResponsibleTraveller

Spread the word, share the message! Make your family and friends join this campaign in order to protect wildlife from being harmed as a tourist attraction! #TheHugIsNotLove #RealLoversDontHug #Summer #BornToBeWild #DislikeAnimalAbuse #Selfie #Love #Sloth