I cling to a chain-link fence, the strap of the radio receiver clenched between my teeth as I climb sideways over an open ditch. It is clear from the smell that the local neighborhood has not gotten on board with the whole septic system plan.
“After we get around the sewage pipe, make a jump for the mud bank. You have boots, right? I think it’s only about ankle-deep,” Sarah tells me as she maneuvers around the chest-height pipe. “But watch out for the live electrical wire. And the bees.”
I grunt acknowledgment, trying not to breathe through my nose, and failing. I am well aware that if I drop this radio reviver, I have to go into the ditch after it, and I am also well aware that it is more valuable than I am.
I am not getting paid enough for this.
This is an easy calculation to make, as I am not getting paid at all.
The word “volunteer” first enters the English language around the year 1330; at the time it translated more like “puppet” or “mind-slave”. I muse on the appropriateness of that—surely you have to be a bit funny in the head to do this job.
The job today is to find a sloth by the name of Baguette, who is neighbor to the elusive Croissant. She’s a big, beautiful three-fingered Bradypus variegatus with a preference for large trees and advanced stealth technology, vs. our knee-high rubber boots, two large radio receivers, and the most advanced prefrontal cortexes in the mammal kingdom.
So far Baguette is winning.
Winning what, though, is hard to say. She isn’t getting paid for this either. We use words for sloths like “economy of motion” or “energy budget” because we humans are obsessed with the cost of things. There is an unceasing cash register in the back of our heads, always running, always tallying up the bill: How much for this? How much for that? Will I make rent this month, can I afford cheese? Hurry, hurry, hurry, time is money!
There is something counter-intuitive about the serenity of sloths; the way they sail through the canopy as if they have all the time in the world as if the forest is full of abundance. As if these scurrying, stressing humans below them are really being very silly.
It’s a helpful perspective to contemplate as I lift my eyes from the mud underfoot and look up into the ancient behemoth that is Baguette’s current home: emerald leaves and little yellow flowers, jeweled hummingbirds, crimson and black tanagers, draping lianas and velvet mosses. There is a majesty to trees that connects the earth below to the heavens above. Baguette’s home is a view worth the hike, and a good reminder that the most valuable things in the world don’t come with a price tag.
“Volunteer” from the Latin “voluntas”, meaning will, desire, choice, or wish. It’s a very appropriate word after all because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“Oh my gosh,” says my boss, holding the binoculars to her face. “I think Croissant is a boy.”
I take my eyes off the beeping box attached to our portable radio antenna and peer into the trees, trying to find the small, tan colored sloth amongst the palm fronts and tree bark. Boy or girl, I personally think Croissant might actually be a coconut, but I defer to Amelia’s experience.
I also sympathize; it took me 27 years to figure out that I, too, was mislabeled as a girl, and longer than that to correct it. Luckily for the alleged sloth, or possibly coconut, SloCo is a very friendly and open organization and we can easily update our records. We also do not discriminate: both people and sloths of all sexes, genders, colors and species are welcome here.
Croissant is one of our Urban Sloths; sloths who have been volunteered to wear temporary radio collars and be studied so that we can better understand sloth behavior and how it is affected by humans in their environment. To this end we go out every day and track down each sloth, trekking through dirt roads, abandoned lots, overgrown jungle and occasionally backyards to find our Urban Sloths and gather data. I pull out a device for triangulating the height of trees and begin taking measurements of Croissant’s height, the tree that she (or maybe he) is in, and any observed differences since they were last spotted. As I do so, the radio antenna on my back shifts, pointing away, and begins beeping louder.
“Amelia?” I ask. “Are we sure that’s even Croissant?”
“It must be! How many tiny, 3-fingered sloths sleep in exactly this position, in exactly this Sangrillo tree, and also look exactly like Croissant?”
“Only, according to the radio, the sloth we’re tracking is over there.” I point in the opposite direction of where we are looking. “Do we have a confirmation of the collar?”
Amelia puts the binoculars up to her face again. “Not yet,” she grumbles, and soon we are climbing over the truck, standing in mud puddles (this would be me), craning our necks and using cell phones as zoom lenses to see if the alleged Croissant is wearing a radio collar. After a while, exhausted, hot, and covered in mud (mostly me), we have to admit that we cannot confirm this is our sloth. If sloths were people, we could just ask: Excuse me, what is your name? What are your pronouns? Do you like this tree? By the way, do you mind wearing a radio collar for a few months?
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for the real Croissant, who, according to our instruments, is either 30 meters in the canopy pretending to be a termite nest, has buried her collar in the ditch, or has invented a new form of teleportation as a defense mechanism against being tracked.
Eventually, it begins to rain.
I run the equipment back to the truck while Amelia updates our records for the last several days with our new uncertainties. We don’t always like uncertainty, but this is science: just because something is easy doesn’t mean it is right, and making assumptions is not how you learn the truth.
Tomorrow we’ll be back again, looking not for the truths we want to impose upon others, but for the ones they have to teach us, if we are willing to listen.
Tortuguero: Wildlife bridges, castration clinics, and more!
Last year Team Sloth were thrilled to receive an invite to visit the Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. Tortuguero is renowned as one of the most important turtle nesting sites in the whole world, and in particular, its white sand beaches are a haven for endangered green sea turtles.
We were excited to be connecting and forming new collaborations with a range of different local conservation organizations in the area, and this trip was an opportunity to learn more about the problems in the region and to come up with mutually beneficial solutions to help both the people and the wildlife.
Sadly, it quickly became apparent that the global pandemic had hit the village of Tortuguero hard. Historically, the residents of Tortuguero used to sustain themselves by harvesting the turtles for food, trading the turtle eggs, and creating items to sell from the shells.
Thankfully in recent years, the economic benefit of the turtles has slowly shifted away from exploitation and towards ecotourism, but this industry took a hard hit in 2020 and many local families found themselves in difficult positions.
A unique town
These issues are exacerbated by the fact that Tortuguero is a small, isolated town with no road access and absolutely no veterinary resources. The nearest vet clinic or wildlife rescue facility is over 2 hours away and can only be reached by a combination of boat and bus!
The dog population of the town now outweighs the human population 2:1, with 3000 dogs living alongside 1600 humans, and a lack of castration opportunities means that this problem is getting rapidly worse.
The large dog population is troublesome for a variety of reasons. A large outbreak of canine distemper this year threatened not only people’s pets but also raccoons, foxes, and even jaguars – a rare species that is already extremely vulnerable.
But why stop there? Because we often like to bite off more than we can chew, we also decided to build some Sloth Crossing canopy bridges, do some education outreach with the local children and also host a beach clean-up event at the same time!
Saving turtles and sloths by helping dogs
After a 4 hour, beautiful boat ride down the canals from Moin to Tortuguero, Team Sloth arrived late at night ready to begin the castration clinic the following morning. We brought a team of fantastic volunteers along, and together with veterinarian Maricela, Mina Escot, and the ASVO volunteers, we were able to castrate 42 dogs in one day!
Some people had even traveled to the clinic by boat and we had to carry their (still slightly sleepy) dogs back to their boat to head home! In the meantime, the rest of Team Sloth had ventured out into the local area with ASVO to start installing Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges!
Bridging more gaps
Over the course of the next few days, the bridge-building team had quite an adventure! They were able to install 6 new Sloth Crossing bridges, used over 200 meters of rope in trees that were over 40 meters high, and managed to reconnect some important areas of the national park that had become isolated due to fallen trees. However, in true SloCo style, they also managed to encounter quite a few disasters along the way!
There were ant nests in people’s shoes, broken slingshots, missing equipment, torrential rain, and some accidental injuries, but perhaps the most precarious moment happened while finishing off the very last bridge of the trip.
Tamara is a fully trained climber and is Team Sloth’s chief bridge builder. She was dangling at the top of a 30-meter tall tree trying to secure the rope to a branch when she noticed a troop of wild spider monkeys bounding through the canopy towards her. These magnificent and rare primates are spectacular to watch in the wild, and at first, she was excited to be having such a close encounter with them.
Unfortunately, she quickly realized that they weren’t quite as happy to see her as they started to get a bit too close for comfort. They were no doubt confused by the strange human dangling in one of their favorite trees, and they weren’t afraid to let her know about it. They surrounded her in the tree and began to scream at her while showing their teeth.
Her instinctive response was to scream right back at them to show that she wasn’t afraid, and so for an uncomfortable amount of time, Tamara and the monkeys were yelling at each other and having a stand-off in the tree.
At the same time, she somehow managed to finish securing the rope and got her equipment ready to make a quick descent from the canopy using the safety ropes. Once her feet were back on solid ground she breathed a big sigh of relief – you can never say it’s boring working for Team Sloth!
Due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we, unfortunately, weren’t able to host our usual Sloth School events in the local schools. Our education team didn’t give up, however, and they decided to go door to door instead! They delivered education packs to over 50 families in Tortuguero and are busy making plans to host a major outreach event as soon as the government declares it safe to do so.
Lastly, we want to thank YOU for everything that you have done to support our work to protect sloths. We would not be able to run projects like this without you!
Thank you also to SINAC/MINAE at Tortuguero National Park, Mina, James and the ASVO volunteers, our vet Maricela and her team, CAT and STC at Tortuguero – none of this could have been done without you!
We are now aiming to return to Tortuguero in September when we hope to build more wildlife bridges, castrate more dogs, and further help the community of Tortuguero!
In 2020 the sloth community raised a record-breaking $270,000 for sloth conservation, and as a result, we were able to educate more children, plant more trees, empower more people and help more sloths than ever before.
We are incredibly proud of everything that we have managed to achieve together, especially when we consider the unprecedented challenges that we all faced throughout this past year.
From our Sloth Crossing sponsors and Sloth Adopters to one-time donors who gave a special gift during the holiday season – every single supporter played a vital role in making 2020 our most successful year yet.
We understand that it is important for you to know that your donations are being used in the most effective way possible to help sloths. For that reason, we are committed to always being completely transparent with our accounts, operations, successes, and failures.
We are so proud to present our latest Annual Report – click the link below to see a full breakdown of everything that happened for Team Sloth in 2020!
2020 was a big year for us, but we believe this is only the beginning of what we can accomplish together.
We are absolutely determined to see the day when sloth populations are healthy and thriving. Where sloths everywhere are sustained by healthy and connected rainforests, and people are able to live in harmony with the natural world that surrounds them.
Amelia Symeou is SloCo’s Ecology Coordinator. She is currently leading the Urban Sloth Project and tracking sloths every day. How did she become one of SloCo’s scientists? What’s a day in the life of a sloth scientist really like? Find out more about how her journey from newts to parasites eventually led her to the jungles of Costa Rica.
As a child, were you interested in science? Were you drawn to animals? What inspired you to become a scientist?
As a child, I was always interested in animals. We were lucky and had a really big garden with some ponds in it, so I would spend most of my time as a child with little fishing nets fishing the frogs and the newts out of these ponds, placing them in buckets, and then putting them back.
I would do that for hours. I feel bad for those little guys now. Or digging and finding bugs and worms and other creepy crawlies. Animals were always “my thing” growing up. They have always been a big part of my interests.
When and how did you decide to study biological sciences?
For the longest time, I thought that the only way to work with animals was to be a vet. I kind of started going down that route and realized quite quickly that’s not really what I wanted to do. Then I realized that there were other things I could do to work with animals besides being a vet.
I became very interested in conservation and ecology through that. I was lucky that in my course at University I could pick modules that interested me so I picked a lot of behavior, welfare, and ethics modules that brought me here to this point, working with our natural environment.
As a part of my University course, I did my dissertation on parasitology (which had nothing to do with sloths!). We were studying the efficiency and efficacy of a diagnostic tool called a Mini-FLOTAC which is a non-invasive and cheap way to test intestinal trematodes (so gut parasites basically).
It is a really useful tool in diagnosing schistosomiasis which is a neglected tropical disease that affects millions of people around the world. We don’t see it too much here in Costa Rica but it’s very prevalent in Africa. This tool is really simple, cheap to make, cheap to use (you don’t need a centrifuge or anything like that). It helps to diagnose some really awful parasitic diseases so that people can get the treatment that they need.
I first came to Costa Rica in September 2019 to volunteer for the Sloth Conservation Foundation. As things do in the Caribbean, things didn’t run on time and so the three months I was meant to be working on a tracking project, those sloths weren’t ready to be tracked.
So I left after three months, as was the plan, and then I came back straight after Christmas because I didn’t get the chance to do the thing that I came here to do. By then I had completely fallen in love with the town and with the people and with SloCo so coming back for what was meant to be another three months was a really easy decision.
In those three months, we did get to do the tracking project I came here originally for. And then COVID hit and we were all stuck but still continued. I stayed here instead of going home and now I’m the Ecology coordinator and run the Urban Sloth Project. So coming back was the right decision.
I am the Ecology Coordinator for SloCo. That means I’m responsible for the research projects that we are currently running. Our main research project at the moment is the Urban Sloth Project, so that project aims to compare the activity budgets between sloths living in urban environments and sloths living in an optimal rainforest environment. Through that, we can see the differences in their behavior budgets and see exactly how urbanization is affecting sloths living among people.
Sloths are the most common animal taken into rescue centers in Costa Rica. So, obviously, something is happening, there is something not going quite right. It is our job to figure out what it is and how to fix it.
My usual day as Ecology Coordinator for SloCo would be tracking whenever the weather allows us (whenever it is not too rainy or not too sunny). We are tracking in an urban environment at the moment mainly, which can be really great. The sloths have their own routine and so often we can predict where they are going to be.
On some properties there are people living there so they keep an eye on the sloths for us, so we go there and they’ll just say, “Oh, Cacao is in his usual tree” which saves us half the job, which is really lovely. Other times, it is a little bit harder because we are working in an urban environment, there are a lot of fenced-off private properties that we don’t always have access to.
Obviously, the sloths don’t care about that. Sosometimes it is difficult when there is a sloth on a piece of land that we can’t enter, we know it is there but we can’t get onto the land to do any measurements or take any meaningful data. So that’s quite frustrating sometimes.
On the other hand, we have tracking in an optimal rainforest environment which comes with its own obstacles. The main one being the fact it is a rainforest and there are a lot of low-growing plants, which makes it very difficult to walk through. Usually, there is no trail, so we have to cut our own trail.
And then there are the obvious dangers of snakes and things like that so we have to gear up with our snake guards. And then also trees are very tall, and they are covered in epiphytes. It is exactly the environment a sloth should be in and they are perfectly camouflaged for that environment, which makes our job harder.
The tracking equipment can tell us that the sloth is right there, but we cannot see them, because they are so well camouflaged. They are being a really good sloth but it makes it a little difficult for us when that sort of thing happens. Other than that, it’s a lot of working on research permits, because every time we do research like this, we must ask permission from the government, and that is a long process, and also sticking all the data into the computer, into spreadsheets, which is no one’s favorite part of any job.
What is it like working in Costa Rica?
So one of my favorite things about working in Costa Rica is for sure the biodiversity. You walk outside your house in the morning and you’re surrounded by things that some people might never see in their entire lives. You have the Great Green Macaws flying around which is one of the most endangered species in the world and I just see them every morning outside my house. You are woken up by the troops of howler monkeys which is just amazing and you wake up to the sound of the ocean.
You are living in a little slice of paradise. Everything works at a much slower pace. We work at sloth speed, not just us, everyone, which is a speed that I’m quite accustomed to, so that works out well for me.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
For the future, I hope to be able to continue doing research like this, field research. The Urban Sloth Project is a five-year-long project, so at the moment, that is my future, so I hope that we are able to get some really good data, that we are able to analyze that data and come up with some concrete plans to conserve sloths in the wild.
By conserving sloths in the wild, we are also helping all other wildlife that shares their environment with us and the sloths. Because insulating power lines, building wildlife bridges, and reforesting the environment is going to benefit every single organism that we share our environment with.
What does conservation mean to you?
Conservation, to me, means not only conserving a species but an entire ecosystem. To me it doesn’t make sense to try and conserve one species because there is a reason that that species is struggling, that is not the species’ fault that is something that is occurring outside of themselves.
Often by helping those issues, we are not only going to help that species but you are going to help everything else that is living in that environment. That is really important to me. To understand that the aim of conservation is not about putting a band-aid over an issue, it is about fixing that problem so that it is no longer a problem. So that is really important, and I feel like that is something that is sometimes lost in temporary solutions for very big problems.
That is why research is so important, especially when it comes to sloths because so little research has been done. Research is so important for getting definitive answers to our questions and therefore being able to provide the solutions that help not only sloths but the entire ecosystem, including us.
What has it been like working as a woman in science?
So in my journey to get here, my education, and my career so far, I’ve never really experienced, very luckily, any discrimination. I went to the Royal Veterinary College University of London and we were 90% women in that institution, I would say. There were maybe 5-6 boys on my course, so really I have always been around female scientists.
It’s never felt like an obstacle for me personally, and it’s never felt like there weren’t any of us. But then coming into a work environment where there is that disparity between men and women has been a little more difficult, especially at University where all I saw pretty much were women scientists, most of my lecturers were also women. So then coming into the field maybe there were points, but then I joined SloCo, which also has a lot of women working here.
What are your favorite things about sloths?
My favorite thing about sloths is probably that they are 3x stronger than human beings. I love that. I remember when I learned that it caught me completely off guard. People are often really shocked when we say that and they ask, “How? They are so small!” You always think the bigger you are the stronger you are, like elephants are obviously super strong because they are so massive. But how could a small sloth be stronger than us?
And it is just because of the way that their fibers are arranged within their muscles, their muscles are pound for pound stronger than ours are. The muscles are arranged differently within their skeletal structure (that also gives them more strength) their muscles work on a lever system, which I think is really interesting.
And also the fact that the two-fingered sloths (Choloepus) have these humongous teeth, which I again didn’t know before I came here, and I didn’t really know until I was bitten by one! That was a bit of a rude awakening that these guys have a lot that they can use to defend themselves with. But their best form of defense is their camouflage because everything else uses up way too much energy for them.
Outside of work (my answer would probably be different if I was still living in London) but here I go to the beach, I go for walks. We are surrounded by this beautiful environment so sometimes it’s sad to sit inside and watch Netflix (which I still do) but I spend a lot more of my time outside here than I would if I was still living in London.
I love going out to eat, which has been tough during the pandemic. I think it is really sad that it is something we haven’t been able to do. But slowly, slowly things are opening again here for us, and I’m able to go back to my favorite restaurants, which to me is a form of self-care. I love going out to eat and trying new food, and trying new drinks.
I’m very lucky to be here by the ocean because one of my favorite activities is paddleboarding, and here we can do that certain months of the year.
That’s been really lovely for me to go out and be able to do that in my own time, rather than in a holiday setting, where you know it’s only temporary. I like that I’m able to go, spend as much time as I want to come back and my board is still the next day and I can go if I want, or I don’t have to go if I want, that’s absolutely fine too.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring conservationist?
So some people ask how I found SloCo, and for me, Google was my best friend. Literally, all my internships that I applied for that I was accepted to, have been through Googling the kind of conservation that I wanted to do. For example, Googling “sloth conservation.”
SloCo was one of the first ones that came up. There was nothing advertised about wanting volunteers but I shot off an email anyway and that is how I got a fair few of my internships leading up to this point was just by sending off dozens and dozens and dozens of emails.
A lot of them may not respond to you, that is fine, that is most likely nothing personal to you. Conservation organizations are run on usually on a skeleton staff because we are non-profits and can’t always afford to hire admin staff so I understand sometimes emails get lost, emails don’t always get responded to but it is about sending out as many as you can to hedge your bets as to who is going to respond to you. That was how I pretty much did everything after University, how all the opportunities came my way was by searching for them.
Celebrating International Day of the Girl with Team Sloth
October 11th is International Day of the Girl.This is a day to recognize the issues that girls face globally and to break down barriers to their empowerment and success. This year the motto is “My voice, our equal future“: a call to action that emphasizes how the well-being of humanity and the planet depends upon the future of girls.
To address this issue, the Girl Scouts‘ foster female leadership from a young age: helping girls to build the skills and the confidence to take matters into their own hands.
So in honor of International Day of the Girl, we would like to highlight the incredible work of these young female conservationists.
Our Director of Education and Outreach, Sarah Kennedy has been engaging with the Girl Scouts through educational zoom sessions about sloths. Concerned by the various problems that sloths face, several of the girl scouts took the initiative to create videos to raise awareness about sloths.
Troubled by the lack of opportunities for women and girls in her field, the incredibly talented wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas started the organization Girls Who Click: a mentorship program to give girls the tools and the guidance they need to become photographers and conservationists.
Given the right guidance and the space to take up the spotlight, girls can begin to flourish. With a little encouragement, the way that girls perceive themselves and their role in society begins to transform and as a result the world around them.
Female-powered Team Sloth
SloCo is largely powered by women, from our Founder and Executive Director Dr. Rebecca Cliffe to our predominantly female Team Sloth. Having been girls ourselves we understand what kinds of obstacles exist for women and girls, especially in science. International Day of the Girl is an opportunity to take stock of how far we’ve come, and ask ourselves: how can we continue to empower the next generation of women?
The dog days (are never over): Why caring for dogs helps sloths
Happy International Dog day everyone! While there seems to be a day for quite literally everything right now, a day dedicated to celebrating dogs is something that is pretty important to many of us! And it makes sense that the Day of the Dog is at the end of summer.
Have you heard of the “dog days of summer“? Well Dog Day is right in the middle of them! To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” began when the dog star, Sirius, could be seen rising just before the sun came up.”Dog days” are traditionally the hot, sultry days of summer which are known for heat, thunderstorms, lethargy, mad dogs and bad luck. Sounds about right!
Leash laws vary by country but even where it is illegal to have a dog off the leash (like in Costa Rica for example), many people allow their animals to roam, unsupervised, with no repercussions. Unfortunately, the animals that suffer the repercussions are wild animals, like sloths.
Ultimately this is not the dog’s fault, as they naturally have predator instincts. Certain breeds in particular have a very high prey drive. However, it is up to the owner to properly train and supervise their canine companions to prevent the injury and ultimate extinction of local wildlife species.
How can we prevent dogs from attacking wildlife?
In the South Caribbean we have implemented a program to help control stray dog populations with our “Oh My Dog” initiative!
In this project we sponsor the spaying and neutering of stray dogs (or for families that cannot afford it) as well as promote the responsible ownership of domestic animals. Other ways that we help to protect sloths from dogs include:
Building canopy bridges to prevent the sloths from having to come to the ground.
Planting trees to bridge gaps in the canopy.
Promoting adopting or rescuing dogs over buying a dog.
These are measures that we have already implemented in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica, but they are important worldwide.
Aside from reducing stray dog populations, all dog owners can help protect wildlife by training their dog! We have compiled some top tips for you to help prevent your pet from causing wild animal deaths, wherever you may be.
BONUS: Training is a great bonding opportunity for you and your pets!
Tip 1: Supervise your pet
Always make sure that you are watching your animal (especially at night) and check the yard before letting them out. If that is not possible, or your pet needs to be outside, use a long line or tether to make sure they are unable to reach wild animals.
Tip 2: Use brightly coloured collars
Use brightly coloured collars and/or collars with a bell to alert wildlife to their presence.
Tip 3: Teach your dog how to come when called
This training tip not only helps to ensure the safety of wildlife but is an incredibly valuable tool to keep your dog out of harm’s way.
Tip 4: Teach your dog to stop or stay
Like learning how to come when called, learning to stop or stay is another great way to ensure the safety of wildlife and your pet.
Tip 5: Stop dog aggression
Aggression can often get in the way of you having a good time with your canine pal. Here are some tips for curbing some of those aggressive instincts!
For more awesome training techniques on how to prevent your dog from attacking other animals, check out this helpful website!
5 fun facts for dog day!
Now that we’ve gotten the training out of the way, here are 5 fun facts about dogs in honor of International Dog Day!
Dogs have wet noses because the moisture helps to trap air particles helping them to smell better! Does wetting your nose make a difference? Give it a shot!
Three dogs survived the sinking of the Titanic! Remember watching that film and thinking all the dogs probably didn’t survive? Well three did! They were all small dogs (like a Pomeranian puppy) and were smuggled on the lifeboat. Sorry Jack.
Interested in supporting our efforts to protect sloths by helping dogs?
Currently we fund the spaying and neutering of dogs on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in conjunction with two other great organisations: Puerto Viejo Dogs & Clinica Vetenario: Dr Arroyo y Dr Solano. Puerto Viejo Dogs rescues dogs from the streets, or ones taken by the government in abuse cases, and they fund the care for injured and/or sick dogs and cats. They also foster animals for adoption and so much more. They work with a wonderful veterinary clinic here, Clinica Vetenario: Dr Arroyo y Dr Solano, who spend their spare time providing free care to animals in need.
Both are amazing organisations in the South Caribbean and the animals here are so lucky to have them (follow them online to see more of their amazing work). To protect sloths while caring for dogs, we assist with the costs of spaying/neutering which can range from $30-$50 per animal. To continue helping the animals of the area and to help us assist even MORE animals you can join us by donating to the Oh My Dog project or sponsoring a spay/neuter for an animal in need here! Helping sloths, by helping dogs!
Behind The Scenes With Sloth Photographer Suzi Eszterhas!
To be a wildlife photographer you need to have a lot of patience: spending days on end out in the wilderness, going to extreme lengths to blend in with the surroundings, and a lot of waiting (usually in awkward positions) for the perfect shot. But being a sloth photographer requires a whole new level of patience.
To celebrate “World Photography Day”, we asked our favorite wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas to choose her all-time favorite sloth photos and to tell us the story behind how she captured each image!
Know your Sloth Photographer
First, let’s get to know Suzi a little bit better! Suzi is an award-winning wildlife photographer best known for her work documenting newborn and family life in the wild.Her portfolio is beyond impressive: you have probably already seen some of her images gracing the covers of magazines such as National Geographic, Time, Ranger Rick and Smithsonian.
Suzi has not only ventured to some of the most remote places on Planet Earth in pursuit of the perfect photograph, but she is also the founder of the non-profit organization Girls Who Click which empowers teen girls to enter the male-dominated fields of nature photography and conservation.
Through their free photography workshops, Girls Who Click aims to inspire the next generation of female conservationists and nature photographers. If you are interested in these workshops or would like to collaborate with this initiative, check out their website for further information!
Lights, camera, and not much action!
You might think it’s an easy job to be a wildlife photographer. It’s just exciting adventures and pushing a button on a camera, right? Well, not exactly.
To begin, you need to locate your animal and make sure that you aren’t disturbing or stressing them out in any way. Then you need to get as close to eye-level as possible. This makes sloths particularly challenging as they like to live at the tops of the tallest rainforest trees. You would also like to see the animals face – and if they have a baby, the babies face too!
Then the lighting needs to be just right. Not too dark, not too bright, and definitely no ‘hot spots’ from direct sunlight! Once your animal is finally at eye level, looking in the right direction and with the perfect lighting, you need to consider the background. You don’t want any bright sky or ‘messy’ foliage cluttering the image. As you can imagine, getting all of this right in the middle of the jungle is incredibly difficult.
Here, Suzi showcases her favourite sloth images, species by species, and describes the trails and tribulations involved in capturing each shot!
“The maned sloths were undoubtedly the hardest sloth species to find and photograph. Rebecca and I traveled to the state of Bahia in Brazil to work with a team of scientists that have been studying maned sloths for many years.”
“We went out with them on their field expeditions, and most of our time was actually spent laying on the forest floor for 14 hours at a time, staring up at a patch of fur that you could just barely see, high up in the trees, totally camouflaged by leaves and thick branches. That’s all we saw for most of the expedition!”
“One day we were lucky enough to be with the research team when they captured a male maned sloth that had a radio tracking collar. They needed to remove his collar and download the data that they had been collecting on him. This is really important research because the maned sloths are actually a critically endangered species.”
“This was our only opportunity to see a maned sloth up close! It was quite funny because, true to their name, they absolutely have this gorgeous mane of black hair, but also this particular sloth was quite fierce. I haven’t met that many sloths that are really truly fierce but he absolutely was fierce and almost lion-like so to speak, and that was an extraordinary experience.”
“Swimming with a sloth is one of the highlights of my career as a wildlife photographer. Just being in the water with the sloth was an incredibly intimate and exciting experience. In order to photograph this sloth, I swam alongside it in tropical blue water.”
“It really was like a dream… until I swam into sea-grass that had a lot of jellyfish in it which I didn’t even notice because I was so caught up in this sloth. The jellyfish started stinging me all over. I was muttering obscenities in my head while at the same time taking in the beauty of this animal and trying to get the picture right.”
“Taking an over and under shot, which basically means half above water and half underwater, is incredibly complicated and so it took quite a few attempts to get the one that I really liked. Luckily for methe sloth wasn’t swimming very fast! They are actually surprisingly fast in the water, more so than you would think, but it was a long swim and so I had some time to compose the shot and it is definitely an experience I treasure.”
“To find pygmy sloths we had to travel to a remote uninhabited island off the coast of Panama where we spent 5 days searching for them. On the last day after a very successful shoot, we were all excited to go home, but unfortunately a tropical storm rolled in and we got stranded on the island. We had to ration water for two days and sleep curled up on the floor of a speedboat while the storm raged all around us. The only good news? We were able to pay some fishermen to catch us some lobster and cook it on a fire on the beach! And we got the shots, so that’s all that matters.”
“To photograph pale-throated sloths we traveled to an idyllic island called “sloth island” in Guyana. It was an absolute paradise for sloth lovers: it’s a place where sloths have been protected for many years and are regularly viewed by tourists.”
“Rebecca and I spent a fabulous week there looking for sloths. There were days when we found 11 different sloths in one day, and it really was a paradise. The pale-throated sloth is one of my favorite sloths just because of their gorgeous faces and coloring. Rebecca likes to call them “moon faces”, and this feature makes them incredibly photogenic subjects.”
“We spent a lot of time watching one mom and baby pair that would just sleep all day, as sloths do! I fell asleep several times waiting for them to wake up!”
“Rebeccais very good at staying awake while sloths are doing absolutely nothing, and I have a tendency to nod off which she was she likes to make fun of me for! Sloth island was an absolute paradise for us.”
“The first sloth I ever photographed was a brown-throated sloth. I had come to Costa Rica to photograph some orphan sloths in a sanctuary but I couldn’t believe my luck, but a wild female sloth showed up in the forest surrounding the sanctuary with her newborn baby that was less than a week old.”
“I quickly shifted gears and started following her around the forest, and spent a few weeks doing that with Rebecca. We became best friends and bonded over our love of sloths, and then we hatched a plan to spend the next several years trying to photograph all of the different species of sloths. We’ve done five of the six, but we’ve still got one more to go. Throughout this time I have absolutely fallen in love with sloths!”
“I become so involved with The Sloth Conservation Foundation I am very proud to be a trustee of the organization. The brown-throated sloths to me are the quintessential sloth, so from a wildlife photographer’s point of view they are incredibly photogenic. It’s the sloth that I dreamed of photographing ever since I was a kid.”
Hoffmann’s Two-Fingered Sloth
“Photographing this mother and baby pairing, Ali and Jessica, was probably the most intimate experience I’ve had with sloths. They were in a soft release area at a sanctuary as they had been rescued from a busy road and were in the process of being released back to the wild.”
“I climbed up into this almond tree that they were in and just sat in the tree with them at their eye level. It was a really beautiful, quiet experience being in the tree with them as they rested. The baby even spent some moments playing! It’s the first time I’ve seen anything that looks like play coming from a sloth so it was really a wonderful thing to witness.”
“It turned not so wonderful as I started coming down the tree and accidentally sat in a termite nest! The thing about this job is that it’s not as glamorous as people think. It’s dirty, sweaty, there’s lots of insects. Sometimes you feel like the habitat is out to get you. But it was worth it for this photo, and to have those moments with those two before they were released back to the wild where they should be.”
Bonus Jungle Story
“Quite possibly my favorite jungle experience of my life also occurred during the maned sloth expedition. Some of you may not know, but Rebecca is surprisingly an extreme arachnophobe. As we were doing a very professional selfie video about what the maned sloth researchers were up to, and how the jungle was suddenly getting dark, Rebecca had a close encounter with one of her eight-legged friends!”
Did you enjoy these stories?
A new book from Suzi is coming soon! In ‘My Wild Life’ Suzi shares more anecdotes and stories, all illustrated with her amazing photos. This is also a story of the challenges most women have to face in male-dominated fields, and how to overcome these issues.
The book is now available for pre-order now. Here at SloCo we can’t wait to read it!
Book Lovers Day! Our 20 favorite nature and animal books
Thank goodness for books! Especially in recent times they have become even more treasured and there’s so much we can gain from them! They can teach us, help us escape, take us on adventures, make us fall in love and so much more.
Today we celebrate all things books and the people that love them, so to mark the occasion we have compiled a list of some beautiful books all about nature and animals for you to enjoy! We went through the reviews, so you don’t have to!
We also asked Team Sloth what their favourite books are, so if you’re looking for some new and imaginative recommendations to read, this list is for you!
For Toddlers & Young Children (and big kids too)!
1- Moto and Me – By Suzi Ezterhas
“Moto and Me tells the firsthand story of wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas’s care for an orphaned baby serval—a small, spotted wildcat—in Kenya.”
2- An Anthology of Intriguing Animals – By Ben Hoare
“This animal encyclopedia with a twist showcases more than 100 animals in close-up detail. Arranged from biggest to smallest, the wildlife of the world is revealed with stunning photography and gorgeous illustrations” (and of course it includes a sloth)!
3- National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia
“Graphic designer and molecular biologist Sabina Radeva has recast ‘On the Origin of Species’ in the light of subsequent scientific discoveries, providing an enlightening commentary alongside beautiful illustrations.”
4- On the Origin of Species (for kids & adults!) – By Sabina Radeva & Charles Darwin
“Graphic designer and molecular biologist Sabina Radeva has recast ‘On the Origin of Species’ in the light of subsequent scientific discoveries, providing an enlightening commentary alongside beautiful illustrations.”
Coffee Table Books
5- Sloths: Life in the Slow Lane – By Dr. Rebecca Cliffe
“Sloth expert Dr. Rebecca Cliffe has teamed up with world renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas to produce this stunning coffee-table book which takes readers on an immersive journey through the jungles of South America to discover the secret lives of sloths.”
“Inspired by the “Overview Effect”– a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole–the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that we have shaped.”
Animal and Nature Novels (Fiction)
7- The Call of the Wild – By Jack London
“Originally published in 1903, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is an action-filled story featuring a narrative from an animal point-of-view—Buck the dog. Buck lived happily on a ranch in Santa Clara Valley, California, until one night, he’s stolen away by the gardener’s assistant and sold to traders. Eventually, he ends up in the Klondike region of Canada, where he is trained to become a sled dog.”
8- Life of Pi – By Yann Martel
“When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.”
9- Where the Crawdads Sing – By Delia Owens
“Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder.
Real life Stories
10- In the Shadow of Man – By Jane Goodall
“World-renowned primatologist, conservationist, and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall’s account of her life among the wild chimpanzees of Gombe is one of the most enthralling stories of animal behavior ever written.”
11- Gorillas in the Mist – By Dian Fossey
“One of the most important books ever written about our connection to the natural world, GORILLAS IN THE MIST is the riveting account of Dian Fossey’s thirteen years in a remote African rain forest with the greatest of the great apes.”
12- Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle To Establish The World’s First Jaguar Preserve – By Alan Rabinowitz
“In 1983, zoologist Alan Rabinowitz (1953-2018) ventured into the rain forest of Belize, determined to study the little-known jaguar in its natural habitat and to establish the world’s first jaguar preserve. Within two years, he had succeeded. In Jaguar he provides the only first-hand account of a scientist’s experience with jaguars in the wild.”
13- A Life on Our Planet – By David Attenborough
(We had to put David Attenborough in here somewhere)!
“A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. ‘All we need is the will do so.”
Team Sloth’s Favourite Books
Get to know Team Sloth a bit better through their favourite books!
14- Dr. Rebecca: Pink Boots & a Machete – By Mireya Mayor
“I read that book when I was 19 and just starting out on my sloth journey! I was struggling to be taken seriously because I didn’t ‘look like a scientist.’ That book taught me that I don’t have to choose between looking more scientific or looking feminine – I can be both!”
15- Sarah: Harry Potter (particularly The Order of the Phoenix) – By J.K. Rowling
“These books remind me of home and happy times. I re-read them every 1-2 years and just love the series because it is full of pure escapism, magic, and wonderful characters that you grow to love like you know them.”
16- Amelia: Everything I Know About Love – By Dolly Alderton
“I grew up in the same area as the author and this book is uncannily similar to my life. It is almost like reading a memoir written by another person. It helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one making stupid decisions as a teenager!”
17- Cecilia: Open Veins of Latin America – By Eduardo Galeano
“This book is so important to me because it helped me to understand my Latin American identity. It chronicles the looting of resources, the destruction of nature on this continent, the people and companies responsible for it, and the inherited injustice because of this history. This book is a must to anybody who wishes to understand the true history of Latin America.”
18- Katra: The Golden Compass – By Philip Pullman
“I have always loved fantasy that borders on realism and the Golden Compass series (aside from being a wonderful adventure trilogy) really makes you think about the nature of the universe. I read this series as a child and later as a young adult and it was so curious how the meaning changed for me overtime.”
19- Patricio: The Lost World – By Arthur Conan Doyle
“I read this book when I was a kid and it really changed me at the time. It opened my mind to thinking about nature and exploring, something I hadn’t really considered before. Today I really enjoy literature about science.”
20- Tess: The Mists of Avalon – By Marion Zimmer Bradley
“I’ve always loved reading books that have a historical background. Coincidentally, I read this book for the first time on a family trip to France and we accidentally stopped at ‘foret de Brocéliande’ which was connected to the book. Reading this book brings up fond memories of that wonderful trip.”
What are your favourite nature and animal books?
*All books on this list are available via Amazon or your local book retailers! #supportlocal