The meaning of volunteering

The meaning of Volunteering

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.

A Day in the Life of a SloCo Volunteer

A Day in the Life of a SloCo Volunteer

“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.

 

ames

 

-Ames

Urban Sloth Project Volunteer

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!

Dear sloth lovers: We love You!

Dear sloth lovers: We love You!

At its heart, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show appreciation for our loved ones. Showering our significant others with shiny boxes of sticky chocolate, heart-shaped candies, and love-struck teddy bears: we share gifts to demonstrate our affection for them.

Gifts that are usually forgotten in a matter of days or weeks.

To SloCo, our “significant others” are our supporters because what they do (what you do) for sloths is truly significant. From our outspoken activists to our generous and consistent donors, you’ve shown the kind of dedication that we could only dream of at the beginning.

Dreams that your support have turned and continue to make into a reality.

 

sloth lovers

Gifts that last:

Unlike those chocolates that go uneaten, your contributions have lasting effects.

We have seen our Sloth Crossing bridges get used by more animals over time as they continue to get accustomed to them.

Sloth School has taken to the virtual realm, reaching more young activists (thank you Girl Scouts!) and sloth aficionados than ever.

Cecropia trees (a favorite sloth tree) that we planted last year have doubled in size and thanks for your continued engagement so has our reach.

 

sloth lovers

 

Furthermore, loving sloths and working to protect them benefit a whole host of other species with whom they share their jungle home. The beach almond trees (a favorite staple of the two-fingered sloths) are an essential source of almonds for the critically-endangered Great Green Macaws.

Moreover, these beach dwelling trees help to mitigate coastal erosion thus protecting coral reefs from being smothered with silt. These trees also help to maintain dwindling nesting grounds for the immense leatherback turtles that pull themselves up onto the sand every year to lay their eggs.

These rich coastal ecosystems also help to purify water and are important sanctuaries for the fish that many coastal communities depend upon.

In other words, the love that you’ve shown for sloths is extended to the whole ecosystem, eventually making its way back to us.

 

Thanks for being our Valentine!

It’s amazing what a little sloth love can do. Thanks to you these sloths can continue to do what they do best – living their best sloth lives. And although sloths may not be the most romantic of animals, you are their Valentine too.

Thanks for continuing to show up for sloths – they may not remember to send flowers but they too are eternally grateful.

Thanks for being our Valentine – we hold you fondly in our hearts.

Sending a Valentine’s Day sloth hug your way!

 

sloth lovers

 

The true stories behind these famous baby sloth photos

The true stories behind these famous baby sloth photos

With a following rivaling that of the Kardashians, these baby sloths will never know just how famous they have become.

Note: Many of these baby sloths were photographed in rescue centers. SloCo is not a rescue center but we work closely with wildlife rehabilitation organisations on research and education initiatives to further our understanding of these unique creatures.

‘Mira’ – the world’s most famous baby sloth!

This is Miracle, or ‘Mira’ for short- she was found on a forest trail only a few hours old, with her umbilical cord still attached. She was rescued by a passerby and taken to the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. This photo was taken after she had been cleaned up and given a warm blanket to snuggle into.

You might not recognize this sloth, but scroll down to see her transformation!

Photo: Rebecca Cliffe

 

This is Mira around 8 months later. This photo was taken by Sloth Sanctuary volunteer Anne Goodall and was first used in the ‘Save Our Sloths’ fundraising campaign 8 years ago. The image went viral and has since appeared on everything, from bumper stickers to billboards.

Unfortunately, this photograph is also one of the most illegally replicated images (did you know that it is against the law to use somebody else’s photograph without their permission? Even if you paint or draw it!) Lots of people and companies sell merchanidse featuring this image without getting Anne’s permission!

 

Photo: Anne Goodall

Jewel

Jewel was rescued as a baby with a broken arm by the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. Her arm was placed in a cast to aid with the healing process (today Jewel still has a bump in her arm where the bones were broken). Jewel and SloCo founder, Dr Rebecca Cliffe, have a close relationship. For a full year, Rebecca monitored every aspect of Jewels life in order to collect data for her PhD (including checking her body temperature every 3 hours for 8 continuous months – day and night)!

 

 

Esmeralda & Peanut

Esmerelda and her baby, Peanut, are wild three-fingered sloths living in the rainforests surrounding the Sloth Sanctuary in the South Caribbean. SloCo founder, Rebecca, alongside photographer Suzi Eszterhas, followed Esmerelda and Peanut every day for three weeks. In this well-timed photograph, Peanut is around 2 weeks old and is learning from mom which trees are the best for eating.

Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Ali & Jessica: the most famous mom and baby!

Ali and Jessica miraculously survived after being hit by a car on Valentine’s Day 2015, with this photo becoming one of Suzi Eszterhas’ most popular pieces. Ali and Jessica are also available for symbolic adoption on our website. To capture this image, Suzi had climbed a tree and accidentally sat on a termite nest. The ants in her pants were worth it though!

Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Ella, Shilo & Poko

Ella (left), Shilo (middle), and Poko (right) are three orphaned babies who became best friends during rehabilitation at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. They would spend all day snuggled up together like this in a bucket in the baby nursery.

Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Jessica

Last (but certainly not least), we have Jessica again! In this photo, Jessica is around 5 months old, and her mother, Ali, is estimated to be over 25 years old.

Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Slothoween and Things that Go Bump in the Night

Slothoween and Things that Go Bump in the Night

When you think of Halloween, sloths may not be the first creatures that come to mind. These “serial chillers” may not immediately strike fear in the hearts of children but have you ever seen a sloth creeping around at night?

slothoween

Sloths are cathemeral, which means they are active at different times of day and night. Due to their varied sleeping and eating habits, they can often be seen slowly creeping around at night.

 

 

Spirits of the night

Legends abound about creatures that haunt the night. Sometimes this can lead to some misunderstandings, as in the case of the endangered Aye-Aye. This strange lemur of the night is often killed upon sight because of the belief that they will bring bad luck to a community.

With their nocturnal habits and skeleton-like fingers, Aye-Ayes truly embody the spirit of Halloween. Although their fingers may seem creepy, they use these specialized digits to reach larvae living in tree stumps./Photo: Wikimedia Commons, nomis-simon

Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), like sloths, are also cathemeral. Although adorable during the day, their haunting calls echo throughout the night. In fact, the name lemur comes from the Roman word “lemures” meaning “spirits of the unburied dead.” With their glowing orange eyes and spooky sounds, they definitely live up to their name!

Like sloths, ring-tailed lemurs will bask in the sun to raise their body temperature./Image: Wikimedia Commons, Keven Law

Celebrating Slothoweeen

Whether you enjoy carving pumpkins, sharing scary stories, or stuffing yourself with candy, there are many ways to celebrate Halloween. To get in the “spirit”, here are some our favorite spooky sloth facts and Halloween sloth puns (we apologize in advance for a couple of them).

 

Spooky sloth facts

  • Sloths are blind in bright daylight. During the day their pupils can be as small as pinpoints but during the night their pupils expand to an impressive size!

In bright light, sloths have incredibly small pupils (if you look carefully you can see the black dots in the center of their eyes). Photo/Suzi Ezsterhas
  • Three-fingered sloths can turn their heads 270 degrees! They are able to do this due to two extra vertebrae in their necks, which help them to reach those difficult leaves without having to move their whole body.

These extra cervical vertebrae come in handy during swimming as well, making it easier to hold their head above the water as they sloth-paddle to shore!/Photo: Suzi Eszterhas
  • Wild sloths often have hundreds of insects living in their fur! Their hair is home to the sloth moth – a special species of moth that is found nowhere else on planet Earth!

In addition sloth moths, sloth fur hosts algae which turns them green and helps them to camouflage!/Photo: Suzi Eszterhas
  • There used to be a type of sloth, known as the giant ground sloth, that was 20 feet from head to tail and weighed up to 4 tons!

When standing on their hind legs, the giant ground sloth (Megatherium americanum) stood 12 feet tall!/Photo: Wikimedia commons: Ballista
  • A sloth can fall from over 100 feet without breaking a single bone! Their miraculous ability to withstand falls from such great heights comes from the fact they have almost double the amount of ribs as we do!

Sloths have 21 pairs of ribs (humans have 12) which help to protect their internal organs during a fall./Photo: skull unlimited

Slothoween puns

  • What do sloths and zombies have in common?

-They are both “creepy” and sleepy.

  • Who do you call to solve a sloth mystery?

-Shersloth Holmes.

spooky sloth halloween

 

  • What do you call a sloth who dressed up as a ninja for Halloween?

-A lean green fighting machine.

  • Why did the sloth have a bad Halloween?

-They only managed to visit one house.

 

spooky sloth halloween

 

 

  • What happened to the sloth’s Halloween candy?

-They had to leaf it behind.

  • What’s a sloth’s favorite superhero?

-Wolverine.

  • What’s the sloth’s favorite Star Wars character?

-Chewbacca.

 

halloween spooky sloths

  • What did the sloth go as for Halloween?

-Sleeping Beauty.

  • What did the sloth say when they arrived at the house for candy?

-Trick or sleep? Give me some good leaves to eat!

 

spooky halloween sloths

 

Wishing you a happy Slothoween from the SloCo team!

-Katra Laidlaw

Spooky Sloth Stories For Halloween!

Spooky Sloth stories for Halloween!

If iconic villains were replaced with sloths…

To celebrate the end of October we have created some spooky Halloween sloths and listed our favorite spooky sloth facts for you to enjoy! You will notice that we have ‘sloth-ified’ four iconic villains from some of your favorite horror movies: the puppet from Saw, Pennywise, Chucky, and Hannibal Lecter. Happy Halloween!

#1 The Legend of the ‘Mapinguari’ and the Giant Ground Sloth

The legend of the Mapinguari is not only terrifying but may also be proof that an ancient type of sloth may still roam the jungles of SouthAmerica. South American folk-law tells of a giant Amazon forest monster that has nasty claws, backward-facing feet and an extra mouth on its belly.

Apparently, this giant hairy beast wanders the forests of South America, tearing down trees with its powerful claws and leaving behind a trail of destruction as it looks for food.

 

 

Some scientists have an interesting theory about the Mapinguari and believe that it may actually be a species of giant ground sloth, once thought extinct but now living in the depths of the forest.

One researcher in particular, David Oren, a Harvard and Yale-trained biologist, and ornithologist, thinks the infamous monster is actually the last living megatherium (a type of ground sloth that stood over 25 feet tall and was once one of the largest mammals to walk the earth). “It is quite clear to me that the legend of the mapinguari is based on human contact with the last of the ground sloths… we know that extinct species can survive as legends for hundreds of years. But whether such an animal still exists or not is another question.”

Perhaps one of these giant sloths is still roaming through the depths of the jungle in the Brazillian Amazon, although it would be more of a gentle giant feasting on leaves and avocados rather than a blood-thirsty monster coming to eat your children!

 

saw puppet sloth
© Cecilia Pamich 2019

#2 The Sloths Strange Taste for Toilets

In 2001, a group of scientists working in the Peruvian Amazon noticed a sloth hanging from the wooden beams over their toilet. It wasn’t just hanging there, though. It was actually eating from the latrine. The extraordinary behavior was recorded on at least 25 occasions and the researchers later published their observations in the journal Mammalian Biology.

It is likely that the sloths are receiving some sort of nutritional benefit from this bizarre feeding habit, although we are still unsure exactly what that might be. We do know that wild sloths practice something called ‘geophagy’ (which is where they eat earth or soil-like material such as clay or chalk to gain additional nutrients), and so perhaps the terrifying toilet visits are simply a nutritional boost for a mammal that eats only leaves!

 

Chucky sloth
© Cecilia Pamich 2019

 

#3 The ‘Panama creature’

In 2009 a group of teenagers discovered what appeared to be a hairless, terrifying creature crawling out of a cave in Panama. Fearing for their lives as it moved towards them, the boys claim they attacked the monster with sticks before throwing its lifeless body into a pool of water.

They then took a picture of the animal for proof which quickly went viral on the internet as people compared it to the ‘Montauk Monster‘ from the previous year. The creature’s body was recovered four days after the encounter, and a biopsy was performed by the National Environmental Authority of Panama (ANAM).

The biopsy concluded that the corpse was in fact a male brown-throated sloth that had probably died from natural causes. André Sena Maia, a veterinarian who works at Niteroi Zoo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, explained that “most people know how a dead animal looks like in a dry environment”, and claimed that “the body must have got stuck under the water, and the movement of the currents gave the false impression that it was alive”.

The hairlessness was probably caused by the fact it was submerged in water, which can lead to the acceleration of fur loss, resulting in smooth skin.

 

It pennywise sloth
© Cecilia Pamich 2019

#4 Sloths and Flesh-Eating Diseases

Many people believe that sloths are terrifying because they can transmit a nasty disease to humans that will eat away at your flesh. This is a very strong belief held by people typically living in remote, poorly educated areas where wives tales and superstition are passed down through generations.

Consequently, sloths are often feared in these regions and people will often respond in brutal ways if a sloth strays too close to their home. The disease in question is actually a flesh-eating parasite called ‘leishmaniasis’. It does indeed cause huge lesions to appear all over the body, but there is no way a sloth can transmit leishmaniasis to a human – this only happens through the bite of an infected sandfly.

This misconception stems from a few scientific studies that have found sloths to test positive for the Leishmania parasite. They are, in scientific terms, a reservoir for leishmania, but so are many mammals – including dogs!

Hannibal Lecter Sloth
© Cecilia Pamich 2019

#5 Do you know what is actually frightening for sloths?…

Humans – and the damage that we are causing to the sloth’s rainforest home. Deforestation, roads, power-lines and human exploitation are real-life horrors for sloths all over Central and South America. You can learn more about these problems and see what we are doing to help here.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

 

 

Celebrating International Sloth Day!

Celebrating International Sloth Day!

Taking a lazy day to stay in your PJs seems like a fitting way to celebrate the world’s slowest moving mammal. However, International Sloth Day (October 20th) is more than an excuse to take it easy,  it is a day to recognize an important member of tropical ecosystems.

three-fingered three-toed sloth hanging smiling

Why celebrate sloths?

Sloths play an important role in tropical forest ecosystems. Scientists estimate in a healthy tropical forest, sloths should make up a significant percentage of all the mammals living in the forest (in terms of biomass). In other words, sloths are meant to be common.

Like the herbivores of the savannah, sloths are the grazers of tropical ecosystems, playing an important role in the cycling of resources throughout the forest. Having successfully survived on Planet Earth for almost 64 million years they form an important part of the food chain for ocelots, jaguars and harpy eagles.

three-fingered three-toed sloth eating leaves
Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) eats a cecropia leaf, a type of tree that forms a significant part of the sloth’s diet/Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Protecting sloths and the habitat in which they live ultimately benefits a whole host of other species, from poison dart frogs to Great Green Macaws. Not all species, such as velvet worms, receive the same kind of attention and love that sloths receive. Conserving sloths leads to the protection of these lesser known species and the preservation of the beautifully complex ecosystems they are a part of.

Sloths remind us to slow down

In addition to keeping our forests healthy, sloths inspire us to slow down. They are a valuable antidote to fast-paced digital world we live in. Like the classic story of the tortoise versus the hare, sloths are living examples that there are many ways to be “successful” in this world.

Because of their laid-back lifestyle, they have become an emblem of the “pura vida” lifestyle in Costa Rica. They are also a symbol of the tourism industry in Costa Rica, since they embody the spirit of vacation.

sloths sleeping in trees two-fingered two-toed three-fingered three-toed
Sloths have earned the undeserved reputation of being the “laziest” animals in the animal kingdom. They sleep an average of only 8-10 hours a day – the same as humans!/Photos: Suzi Eszterhas

Sloths are in trouble

Sloths are perfectly designed for a quiet, solitary life in the canopy of the rainforest. However, their rainforest home becomes more fragmented and degraded with each passing day.

In the South Caribbean of Costa Rica (where we are based) we get daily notifications of sloths getting stranded in unlikely places, from busy roads to restaurants. It is clear indicator of the pressure we are putting on them and their forest homes.

three-fingered three-toed sloth crawling on ground
Crossing on the ground is a difficult and dangerous process for sloths./Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Celebrating sloth day with Team Sloth

The good news is that you don’t have to get out of your PJ’s to celebrate sloth day. This year we will be offering a variety of virtual events that you can tune into from your sofa! From Slow Flow Sloth Yoga to a live Q&A session, we hope that sloths bring you some tranquility and inspiration during this trying year. Remember to take a breath, take a sloth nap, the world will look a bit better after some rest.

baby three-fingered three-toed sloth snuggling mother
Did you know that a group of sloths is called a “snuggle“?/Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

-Katra Laidlaw

The HANG IN THERE Challenge

Let’s be honest – 2020 is turning out to be an extra-ordinary year for all of the wrong reasons. It has been mentally and financially tough for individuals and organizations everywhere. Now, more than ever before, it feels like we are all just ‘hanging in there’ until life can get back to normal.

In response to the hard-times, we are excited to launch the Hang In There Challenge as a way to have some fun, spread positivity and highlight the sloth’s surprising superpowers – all while hopefully raising some funds to support our sloth conservation efforts!

 

How long can you ‘hang’ like a sloth for?

Nothing complicated – just holding onto a bar with your hands and dangling.  Technically this straightforward maneuver is called the ‘dead hang‘, and you might be surprised by how difficult it is! Very few people are able to hang on for longer than 1 minute, and the dead hang world record is only 13 minutes 52 seconds!

‘Hanging on’ is the sloth’s secret weapon. You might think that the only thing a sloth can do for a prolonged period is sleep, but you would be mistaken (although sloths are also the undisputed nap champions of the world).

 

 

A sloth can easily dangle underneath a tree branch all day long. In fact, they often fall asleep like this! We have even watched a sloth hang from just one arm – with the elbow at a 90 degree angle – for over 15 minutes! These incredible feats of strength and stamina would make any human gymnast jealous.

Do you think you are stronger than a sloth? Are you up for the challenge? Read on to find out how you can take part and be in with a chance of winning the ultimate sloth-lovers goodie bag!

 

Take The ‘Hang In There’ Challenge:

hang in there challenge

1. Find an appropriate horizontal overhead ‘bar’ to dangle from.

This could be a pull-up bar, a climbing frame, a tree branch… get creative! Just make sure that whatever you are holding onto is secure and can support your body weight.

2. Set up your camera, or ask a friend to film you.

3. Grip the ‘bar’ with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) and take your feet off the floor.

Keep your arms straight. Don’t adjust your grip, let go with one hand or change position.

4. Time how long you can hang in there for!

5. Upload your effort to social media (Facebook, Instagram or TikTok)

  • Make sure that you tag us in your post or story – @slothconservation
  • Use the hashtag #HangInThereChallenge
  • Nominate 3 friends to also take the challenge by tagging them in your post
Photo by Dinielle De Veyra from Pexels
Photo by Dinielle De Veyra from Pexels

The Prizes!

There are 2 awards available:

  1. The Hang In There Challenge Champion – awarded to the person who ‘hangs in there’ the longest!

  2. The Most Creative Hanger – awarded to the person who’s entry makes us smile the most!

Winners will be awarded with the ultimate sloth-lovers goodie bag! This includes a beautiful sloth book, our 2021 sloth calendar, a ‘hang in there’ tote bag, Hang In There Champion Certificate and some extra mystery surprises.

adopt a sloth

To be in with a chance of winning, you need to make a donation to support our work and upload your donation receipt to social media along with your video! The donation amount is totally up to you – we will monitor all entries and winners will be announced on the 31st October via our social media channels!

hang in there challenge

Disclaimer: please be careful when participating in this challenge (after all, sloths are very careful creatures)! While there are lots of positive health benefits to this exercise (improves strength, decompresses the spine and stretches out the upper body), you must be responsible for your own safety. Make sure you are hanging from a secure ‘bar’ that can support your body weight, and work your way up in duration to prevent injury. If you are pregnant or have back / shoulder problems, consult your doctor or a personal trainer for advice. The Sloth Conservation Foundation is not responsible for any injuries incurred while participating in this challenge!

 

Love avocados? Thank the Giant ground sloths!

Love avocados? Thank the giant ground sloths!

Did you know that we can thank giant ground sloths for the avocados we have today? Giant ground sloths were one of the few ancient herbivores large enough to swallow avocados whole, thus serving as an important seed disperser for these delicious fruits that we know and love today!

Illustration of the giant ground sloths by Robert Bruce Horsfall/Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Many plants, especially in tropical ecosystems, have evolved to rely upon animals to spread their seeds. Only extra-large herbivores such as the giant ground sloths had the ability to swallow avocado seeds whole, meaning that they could carry them around in their digestive tracts and eventually defecate them far away from the parent tree!

Evidence of these ancient symbiotic (mutualistic) relationships can still be seen today. For example, honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos) have large sweet-smelling seed pods that were eaten by megafauna. They also have big, intimidating spikes on their trunks which likely served as an important defense against these giant herbivores. Now a popular city tree due to their ability to withstand poor conditions, modern versions of honey locust trees have been bred without spikes although their supersized seed pods still litter our bustling city streets.

Seed pods and thorns of the honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos). Although seemingly powerless against modern tree-dwellers these spikes likely served as a vital protection against the large herbivores of the Pleistocene./Images: Freepik.com

How big were the giant ground sloths?

These ancient ancestors of modern-day sloths truly lived up their name. Like bears and anteaters, they had the ability to stand on their hind legs, making them the largest bipedal mammals to have existed. Over 100 species of giant ground sloths lived throughout North, Central, and South America, ranging in size from the formidable Megatherium americanum which towered 3.5 meters tall (12 feet), and weighed up to 4 tons, to the considerably smaller 90-kg (200-lb) Cuban Megalocnus. 

 

Skeleton of the giant ground sloth (Megatherium americanum)/Source: Wikimedia commons

 

The giant ground sloths of North America disappeared around 11,000 years ago and their South American cousins followed suit around 10,200 years ago. However, amazing fossil evidence from 2007 revealed that 200-lb Megalocnus were still lumbering around the islands of Cuba as little as 4,200 years ago!

 

Skeleton of the considerably smaller Cuban ground sloth (Megalocnus rodens)./Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why did the giant ground sloths disappear?

Like many of the memorable megafauna of the last ice age, the exact cause of their extinction remains somewhat murky. Megatherium fossils have been found with cut marks on them, suggesting that ancient humans did consume these giant beasts. However, humans and the giant ground sloths of Cuba coexisted for a period of about 1,000 years. It is likely that a combination of over-hunting and/or climate change led to their demise.

 

Artist’s interpretation of the giant ground sloth (Megatherium) of the Pleistocene and two Glyptodon./Source: Wikimedia commons

 

Although the last of the giant ground sloths disappeared around 4,200 years ago, modern sloths carry on their legacy. Scientists have hypothesized that modern-day two and three-fingered sloths evolved from two distinct lineages of extinct giant ground sloths. In other words, although not closely related, two and three-fingered sloths both evolved independently to live in trees, in a process called convergent evolution. However, recent genetic evidence suggests that the species of sloths alive today may have evolved from an ancestor that was comfortable on the ground as well as in the trees.

 

The future of avocados

Without their ancient seed dispersers, the future of avocados is now in our hands. Unfortunately, avocado trees are quite sensitive to changes in temperature and water. A single avocado requires 60 gallons of water to grow. Fluctuations in rainfall and temperature due to climate change are causing shortages of these lucrative crops. Moreover, the expansion of avocado farms in Mexico has led to the destruction of pine and fur forests thus affecting monarch butterflies. The high demand for avocados has even caused gang warfare to break out in areas such as the Michoacán state of Mexico, where almost 80% of the US’s avocados come from.

Also known as “alligator pears” avocados became popular due to the targeted marketing efforts of Californian farmers in the 1990s./Image: Freepik.com

A sustainable future for avocados means growing them in places where water is plentiful using agricultural methods (such as agroforestry) that make space for biodiversity.

 

-Katra Laidlaw