Don’t Stress the Sloths – a guide to responsible tourism

We are so excited to launch our latest campaign in 2019 – how to enjoy sloths without stressing them out, a guide to responsible sloth tourism! Most people don’t realise the consequences of their actions, and so by raising awareness with this campaign we hope to establish safe guidelines that will help both humans and sloths to co-exist peacefully! We LOVE these incredible new posters designed by our chief sloth illustrator Cecilia Pamich:


Sadly, hundreds of sloths every year fall victim to irresponsible tourism because people simply don’t realise the stress that they are causing. In Costa Rica sloths are regularly found low down or crawling across the ground between trees, and in excitement (or perhaps in an attempt to get the perfect selfie) people often crowd the animal, make a lot of noise and even reach out to touch the fur. This situation has been scientifically proven to cause a dangerous increase in the sloths heart rate and blood pressure, and can cause a female to lose or abandon her baby.

In high tourist areas sloths are also commonly exhibited by the side of the road, with unsuspecting passers-by being charged to take a photo with the animal. In reality, these sloths have been pulled from the trees, often the mother will be killed, and the baby used as a photo prop until it dies (or someone pays to rescue it). The sloth is then replaced in a vicious money-making cycle! We can stop this from happening by removing the demand through education and awareness!


Is Costa Rica really the best place in the world to see sloths?

Is Costa Rica really the best place in the world to see sloths?

If you want to see sloths in the wild, a quick google search will definitively point you in the direction of Costa Rica. With its abundance of wildlife (boasting 5% of the world’s biodiversity), assorted ecosystems (ranging from the cool montane cloud forests to the humid tropical lowland rainforests), and a relatively well-developed infrastructure, approximately two million tourists flock to this tiny Central American country every year.

And for good reason; you are almost guaranteed to see a sloth. But these animals are found in numerous countries throughout South and Central America – so what makes Costa Rica different? Why does this little country appear to have so many sloths? And why are they so easy to see? The truth is perhaps surprising.


urban sloth
Sloth on a bus, Costa Rica. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Sloths are perfectly adapted for life high up in the canopy of  ‘primary’ rainforests.

Primary rainforests are defined as those forests that are in pristine condition, having never been disturbed by humans. They typically have very tall trees (that can reach over 250 feet in height) forming an upper canopy, followed by several layers of understory canopy.

In this environment, the trees all connect and so the sloths can travel easily throughout their home-range without having to come down to the ground very often. Sloths have thrived in this continuous and undisturbed habitat for over 64 million years, and they are continuing to thrive in regions where this ecosystem remains.


Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Wild sloth climbing trees in forest at Sanctuary Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

A brown-throated sloth reaching to cross a gap between two trees. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Costa Rica does not have an unusually high sloth population.

In fact, experts predict that sloth numbers in Costa Rica are falling rapidly. While there is no official population count (for scientists to count an animal, it must first be seen – something which sloths are very good at avoiding), rescue centers across the country are receiving sloths at an alarmingly fast rate.

Sloths are incredibly slow to reproduce, having only one baby every 3 years and facing a natural mortality rate in infants of approximately 60%. Consequently, the sloths are being wiped out faster than they can reproduce.

The simple reason for this is that Costa Rica does not have enough healthy forest left – particularly primary rainforest – for the sloths to inhabit. In fact, as of 2005, only 3.5% of the country was covered by primary rainforest (compared to an average of 40-50% for other South and Central American countries). This is astonishing.


urban sloth
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Loss of sloth habitat

Since the 1960s Costa Rica’s primary forests have been wiped out for agriculture and cattle ranching (not helped by the United States offering Costa Rican farmers millions of dollars in loans to produce beef). In the 1990’s Costa Rica had one of the worst deforestation rates in the entire world, with only 26% of the country having any sort of tree cover left.

Realizing the detrimental effect that this was having on ecosystems and wildlife, the Costa Rican government implemented some impressively rigorous conservation strategies to protect the remaining forests.

As a result of these efforts, Costa Rica is now the only tropical country in the world that has managed to actually stop and reverse deforestation – the amount of forested land is increasing year by year, albeit very slowly. While this is certainly beneficial, the loss of the ancient primary forests can never be reversed, and it is the true primary forest that the sloths need in order to thrive.


Change in forest cover in Costa Rica between 1940 – 2005

But why, then, are sloths so easily seen in Costa Rica?

Sloths inhabiting their preferred habitat – primary rainforests – will be very difficult to spot. In this environment, sloths are perfectly camouflaged and become invisible hiding in the dense foliage at the top of gigantic trees. But in Costa Rica, the sloths don’t have this option.

They are being forced to exist in increasingly urbanized environments, and here they cannot hide! While Costa Rica may appear to be a green and eco-friendly country, on the whole, the secondary growth forest that covers much of the land is sparse and fragmented in comparison to the dense vegetation found in the primary rainforests.


Brown-throated Three-fingered Sloth Crossing pavement, Costa Rica. / Photo: Suzi Eszterhas


If you look closely at the tree cover in many regions, you will notice that the trees rarely connect or overlap at the top. This is manageable for species such as monkeys that can traverse gaps by jumping, but it is detrimental to sloths that are forced to descend to the floor and crawl across the ground. As a result, while attempting to navigate these disturbed areas, the sloths are very easily seen while crossing on the ground or hanging from a power line or isolated tree at the side of the road.


The other side of  ‘Sloth Tourism’

Furthermore, as travel becomes more accessible and increasing numbers of tourists flock to Costa Rica because of its notorious sloth viewing, the infrastructure is being developed to meet the demand. For example, roads that were once pot-hole riddled dirt tracks have been transformed into 80 km/h highways, and the government is expanding the only major highway that links the Caribbean coast to the capital city (route 32) which creates a 50-meter gap between the trees on either side of the road.

When considering the speed at which development is occurring, it hardly seems surprising that sloths are being attacked by dogs, poached / harassed by humans, run over by cars, and electrocuted on the power lines in record numbers.

This equally explains why Costa Rica also has more wildlife rescue centers per square mile than any other country in Central or South American. All of the wildlife is struggling, but the sloths are facing a particularly vulnerable future.



Size (miles 2)Population

% Forested

% Primary Forest

Costa Rica

20,0005 million523.5




3.2 million207 million6250
Panama31,0004 million58


Colombia441,00048 million59


Peru496,00032 million54



So what can we do about it?

Sadly, there is no way to replace the lost primary rainforest, and the knock-on consequences for wildlife are going to be seen for the foreseeable future. However, the negative impacts are certainly being minimized by the implementation of rigorous conservation policies by the government.

When faced with a booming population and tourism industry exerting pressure on the infrastructure, managing to maintain a reverse in the levels of deforestation is an impressive feat. However, there are also things that we can all do on an individual level to help. For example:

  • Practice sustainable tourism – if you do decide to visit Costa Rica, try to be a responsible tourist. This includes:
    • Respect the personal space of all wildlife. Leave at least a 3-meter gap between yourself and any animal you come across and definitely do not touch/harass the animal for a photo opportunity. Try to spread this message to anyone that you see getting too close to an animal.
    • Stay in eco-friendly accommodation. Try to find places that utilize renewable energy, protect the natural resources on the property and use sustainable materials.
    • Take care while driving. The new roads may make it easy to drive quickly, but be wary that an animal may be trying to cross the road just around the corner…
social distance sloths
A group of tourist keeping a proper distance from the sloth
  • Buy Eco-friendly products – Always try to support local, organic farmers. If you are buying fruit, do not support the large, mono-culture companies that are responsible for so much of the deforestation and pollution in tropical countries. This includes Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte.


  • Eat less meat – Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in Costa Rica and animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of all Amazon destruction. That includes clearing land for both cattle grazing and to make space for the vast crop plantations for livestock feed. Furthermore, livestock and their by-products are accountable for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – in comparison, the entire transport sector (including cars, airplanes, and boats) account for just 13%.


  • Support small non-profit conservation organizations that work on the ground – Be careful to who you donate money to. Many of the large organizations have such big overhead costs that virtually all donation money ends up in the pocket of the employees. Try to find smaller charities that are working on the ground to protect wildlife.

CALL TO ACTION – the sloth “sanctuary” of Oregon

A recent media splash advertising “sloth sleepovers” has drawn our attention to the alleged “Sloth Sanctuary” in Portland, Oregon. While this centre has been on our radar for some time, we are growing incredibly concerned by the threat that this institution poses. The “Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center” promotes itself as a “highly specialized endangered and delicate species Wildlife Conservation Center” which is focused on “captive husbandry research” of sloths. While all of that sounds wonderful on the surface, there are a number of major flaws in their operation.

  • Firstly, Oregon seems like a strange place for a sloth ‘sanctuary’. Sloths are only found in the rainforests of Central and South America and there really aren’t many in need of rescue from the concrete streets of Portland. Now the center claims that they work with logging companies in South America and offer an alternative home for the displaced animals. However, there is a glaring problem with that story. If a patch of forest is indeed being cleared, the resident sloths should simply be relocated to a nearby forest reserve. There is absolutely no need, nor excuse, for adult, wild sloths to be exported to the U.S. for any reason. If it is a baby or juvenile sloth that is displaced, it should be transported to a qualified in-country rescue center where a process of hand-rearing and rehabilitation can return the animal to the wild. No sloth retirement home in the U.S. necessary.
  • Secondly, this “successful” sloth research center has published a grand total of zero scientific research papers. None. Not a single one. Despite having maintained hundreds of sloths in captivity for almost 30 years for “research purposes”. It is utterly impossible to call yourself a research centre if you are producing no research.
  • We have heard several reports that this organisation actually exports wild-caught sloths in astonishing numbers from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador where the export laws are slack. In any case, it is well documented that this organisation breeds their sloths on arrival (they brag quite heavily about this on their website). A little bit of detective work on google produces ample evidence which shows the founder of this organisation selling some of the resultant baby sloths into the U.S. pet trade for $4000+. The rest are maintained by the center to supply their “pet a sloth” and “sloth sleepover” schemes which are charged at an eye watering $600. Here at SloCo we are aware of, and are heavily involved with, most of the current sloth conservation efforts occurring across South and Central America. If the money raised by this organisation is going to support any such conservation initiatives then we are yet to hear about it. Perhaps the money is going to fund their sloth research programs?… zero of which have actually contributed anything to the scientific knowledge of these animals.
a post on clearly advertising baby sloths for sale from the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center
A post on clearly advertising baby sloths for sale from the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center (

Sadly, the center receives great reviews from happy guests who have managed to fulfil lifelong dreams of hanging out with sloths. We are confident that the reviews wouldn’t be quite so glowing if visitors could see the true behind-the-scenes workings. Sloths across South and Central America are suffering in unimaginable numbers due to habitat loss, electrocutions, road collisions, dog attacks, poaching…etc. True rescue centres are voluntarily working tirelessly around the clock to mitigate the impacts of this, often without receiving any government funding. It is somewhat sickening for us to witness such pain first-hand on a daily basis, whilst some institutions are blatantly contributing to the problem by cashing in on the popularity of sloths.

"Carnal Contessa", the founder of the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, selling a baby sloth online
“Carnal Contessa”, the founder of the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, selling a baby sloth online


So, what can we do about it?
This is where we need your help. The only way to instigate change in this situation is to raise awareness and share the truth. We urge you to share this post with your friends, family, and anyone that you think may be considering visiting the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center. We also want to spread the message to media outlets who may have publicised this institution and relevant authorities who are allowing this to continue. Contact details for these people can be found at the end of this post.
It can be disheartening and depressing to discover that people with seemingly good intentions are actually instigators of the problem. This case in particular leaves a bitter taste in our mouths due to the scale of the deception. We promise that we will do everything within our power to prevent this from continuing and we are confident that, with your help, we can put an end to this abhorrent act.
“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

Please share this post with anyone that you think may be interested and email/contact/hound the authorities to investigate. Some suggestions are listed below.

Oregon senators:

Merkley, Jeff – (D – OR) Class II
313 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-3753

Wyden, Ron – (D – OR) Class III
221 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-5244

CNN (recently produced this article on the center):

twitter handles: @CNNMoney @cnn @TeamCNN


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

Humane Society:







Yours Sincerely,
Rebecca Cliffe,
Founder and Executive Director


Why Sloths Do Not Make Good Pets

Why Sloths Do Not Make Good Pets

Why Sloths do not make good Pets? A while ago, the internet went crazy over the story of a five-month-old baby girl and her best friend: a pet sloth. The story was accompanied by photos and a video that quickly went viral, attracting attention from all over the world.

The photos are admittedly cute and the resultant media splash catapulted sloths back into the spotlight – but we fear that the negative repercussions may have outweighed the benefits on this one. So here are the top 5 reasons why sloths do not make good pets (and should not be brought into your home).

1. Sloths are wild animals

The main reason that sloths do not make good pets is that they are wild animals. Although they have the reputation of being sleepy, easygoing animals they are best suited for life in the canopy of the tropical rainforest.

Dogs, cats, horses, and other domesticated animals have adapted to live alongside people. They have undergone a variety of physical and behavioral changes, such as fear of humans and aggression slowly decreasing over many generations. As a result, they are fundamentally different from their wild counterparts. Simply put, sloths have not undergone the changes that our beloved dogs and cats have. They still possess all of their wild qualities, which make them unsuitable pets.

Sloths have developed a variety of traits to help them live in the wild. For example, a sloth’s fur grows in the opposite direction to that of other mammals (from the stomach towards the back) helping rainwater drip off their body./Wild sloth photographed by Suzi Eszterhas

2. Sloths are solitary, prey animals

What is the first animal that comes to mind when you think of the word prey? A rabbit? A herd of racing zebras? Many prey animals rely on their speed to escape predators. So how could such a slow-moving animal escape from predators?

The answer lies in their winning evolutionary strategy – to go unnoticedBy moving slowly and carefully around the forest canopy, sloths are able to largely go undetected. However, if sloths lived in groups, if a harpy eagle got its claws on one of them the others would not be able to escape in time. Living quiet, solitary lives is essential for their survival.

Aside from mating and raising young, sloths are solitary creatures./Image of pale-throated sloth with offspring by Suzi Eszterhas

Because sloths are solitary, wild animals, they prefer to be alone. They do not crave human attention like dogs or cats. Nor do they like to be petted, groomed, or bathed because these are not natural behaviors for them. Moreover, because they are prey animals, a human hand moving towards them can be incredibly threatening and stressful.

3. Sloths have big teeth (and they like to use them)

Sloths might look fluffy but they are certainly not teddy-bears – they are wild animals with big, sharp teeth. Sloth teeth grow continuously and rub against each other when they chew resulting in some impressively sharp teeth.

The skull of a two-fingered sloth

We have worked with hundreds of sloths over the years, (both wild and human-reared) and they can all inflict serious injuries if scared or irritated. We have seen a sloth bite through a human hand leaving a hole big enough that you could look through.

In addition to their seriously sharp teeth, sloths are astonishingly strong. Due to their specialized muscle structure, their muscles are pound for pound stronger than a human’s. Despite their small size, sloths are 3x stronger than the average person. Meaning that if you are up against an angry sloth who wants to bite you, chances are the sloth will be the winner of that wrestling match.

When they reach independence (at the age of about 18 months), even the most gentle of hand-reared sloths just do not want to be handled any longer. We suspect that many people are going to learn this the hard way and will find themselves with an expensive, hard-to-handle sloth that could live for up to 50+ years.

4. Appearances can be deceiving

Unlike many animals, sloths do not show obvious external signs of stress. Their natural response to fear or danger is to hold still, and as a result, it is difficult to tell when a sloth is scared or stressed. A pet sloth may look perfectly happy to us – but the reality is probably very different.

We have absolutely no doubt that the sloth photo shoot with the baby was staged with the sole purpose of creating a viral hit. But aside from our concerns for the safety of the baby, we are worried about the negative repercussions these images will have for sloths in general.

Whether this was intentional or not, the tone of the story effectively glamorizes the concept of owning a pet sloth. From what we have seen, the standard response to the images seems to be: “I want one”! And that is where the problems begin.

Blessed (and cursed) with a perpetual smile it is hard to tell how a sloth is feeling simply by looking at them./Photo by Suzi Eszterhas

5. The sloth pet trade threatens wild sloth populations

The sad reality is, sloths that are sold as pets usually come from the wild. Even if the baby sloth was born in the US, it’s more than likely that the parents were originally taken from the wild. After a pregnancy longer than a human’s (11 months) sloths give birth to only one baby at a time. In the wild, baby sloths usually spend a full year with their mothers before reaching independence.

This means that the sloths currently being held in captivity in the US cannot physically produce enough babies to meet the ever-increasing demand from people wanting pet sloths.

So every year, hundreds of sloths are removed from the wild and shipped to the US from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador where export laws are slack. These individuals are then forced to breed and the babies are sold into the pet trade at eye-watering prices. As a consequence of the pet trade demand, sloth numbers are crashing rapidly in the wild.

For an animal that is an expert at maintaining a low profile, it is remarkable how quickly they have risen to fame. Sloths can be found in department stores, on mugs and slippers, on children’s t-shirts, on Amazon and our social media feeds. They are quickly becoming many children’s favorite animals, joining the ranks of lions, pandas, and penguins.

Check out our sloth-themed items in our sloth shop – all proceeds help real sloths in the wild!

But with their increased popularity, sloths are also finding themselves in places where they do not belong – in yoga studios, swimming pools, and private homes.

So if you are considering having a sloth as a pet before you do so, here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions:

So can you have a sloth as a pet? Can you own a sloth? Is it legal to own a sloth?

The short answer is, in some places, yes. The laws governing whether it is legal to own a wild animal, like a sloth, vary from place to place. However, if you considering getting a sloth as a pet (perhaps because you love them and want one in your life) – we strongly urge you to seek an alternative way to express your love for these amazing animals. You could volunteer at a reputable rescue center that works with injured and orphaned sloths or you could symbolically adopt a sloth for yourself!

There are so many ways to show your love for sloths (aside from having one as a pet) – check out our projects for more ways to get involved!

Are sloths friendly? Are sloths dangerous to humans?

To put it bluntly, sloths are not friendly (not in the way you’d expect from a puppy or a kitten). As much as we love sloths here at SloCo, we maintain a long-distance relationship with them. Because they are wild animals, sloths do not crave or seek out human contact (even hand-raised ones once they have reached maturity). So unfortunately no matter how much love you plan on showering on your pet sloth, they will simply not reciprocate.

Furthermore, sloths can be quite dangerous to humans – inflicting deep puncture wounds and even permanent nerve damage. Our Ecology Coordinator, Amelia can tell you firsthand!

A happy sloth is a wild sloth – the best place for them is in their jungle home!/Photo by Suzi Eszterhas

If you have any questions about having a sloth as a pet or would like to speak to an expert about the topics we have discussed here, please email us at


                                                                                                                                                       Dr. Rebecca Cliffe

                                                                                                                                             Founder & Executive Director

                                                                                                                                        The Sloth Conservation Foundation