These combined threats are causing a decline in the biodiversity of the riparian areas: critical habitat for sloths, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, birds and many other species necessary for the balance and health of the ecosystem. Therefore, we must protect and conserve these important areas.
The care and maintenance of rivers not only helps sloths and other wildlife in the area but also directly contributes to the conservation of marine species and the protection of coral reefs.
For example, by reforesting riparian and coastal areas, we gradually reduce the amount erosion and sediment that runs down the rivers. Once this sediment reaches the ocean, it covers coral reefs and prevents the symbiotic algae (zooxanthella) that lives within them from carrying out photosynthesis.
As trees grow they also help to reduce ocean acidification by absorbing the CO2 that would be taken up by the ocean. In addition to using carbon, these trees help to absorb the excess nutrients that go down the river, that cause an excessive growth of algae on the reefs.
Moreover by planting trees, we also help to maintain a healthy and connected ecosystem for tree-dwelling species such as two and three-fingered sloths.
Cleaning the areas adjacent to rivers prevents a large amount of materials and plastics from harming marine life, such as dolphins, turtles, fish etc. that often ingest plastics thinking they are food or get caught in plastic debris.
As we can see, the terrestrial and marine worlds are inextricably linked and riparian habitat plays a fundamental role in the health of both ecosystems. With the right conservation practices put in place, we can have a very positive impact not only on these vital river habitats but also on the biodiversity of the whole ecosystem.
In an ideal situation sloths would live in primary rainforests, where the multi-story canopy interlocks and trees are shrouded in extensive epiphyte growth. In this environment, sloths are perfectly camouflaged and become practically invisible, hiding in the dense foliage at the top of gigantic trees.
Unfortunately, the remaining primary rainforests are dwindling as defirestation escalates, and sloths no longer have access to their preferred habitats. They are being forced to exist in increasingly urbanized environments, and here they cannot hide!
Sloths are slow-moving, habitual animals and are therefore very sensitive to changes in the environment. They are unable to run or jump to traverse gaps between trees, and so habitat fragmentation creates a lot of problems. While trying to navigate an increasingly urbanized world, sloths are being electrocuted on powerlines, attacked by dogs, hit by cars, and exploited by humans.
Sloths in Costa Rica are now considered to be of conservation concern due to habitat loss from agriculture, livestock production, and the increasing urbanization of the rainforest. In line with this, sloths are the most frequently admitted species to rescue centers in Costa Rica.
A massive lack of information on wild sloth behavior
Such a lack of knowledge makes it very challenging for us to develop effective methods to conserve sloths – it is very difficult to protect something that you don’t know anything about!
For two-fingered sloths in particular, even basic data on the natural history and ecological requirements of the species is lacking. For example, information on the habitat preference, ranging patterns, population densities, diet, and reproductive behavior of this genus is incredibly scarce, and for some sloth species, is completely absent.
With current extinction rates indicating that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, a lack of knowledge covering the basic ecological requirements of a species is of concern due to the profound implications for the development of future conservation strategies.
The Urban Sloth Project aims to compare the behavior and activity budgets of sloths living in highly urbanized areas with those sloths living in healthier environments (protected primary rainforests).
Over the next 5 years, we will be tracking and monitoring 32 sloths (16 three-fingered sloths, and 16 two-fingered sloths) using VHF radio collars and compact data loggers. The results will be used to develop effective conservation strategies that will help humans and sloths to peacefully coexist.
Amount of time spent engaging in different behaviors.
Home range size.
Distance traveled per day.
Amount of time spent traveling in the canopy vs traveling on the ground.
Circadian rhythm of activity – How sloth activity is impacted by the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall, moon phase).
To protect sloths, we must first understand them
The knowledge we gain from this project will enable SloCo to make meaningful changes to the lives of sloths living in rapidly changing environments. For example, we will be able to identify which tree species are most important for sloths living in urban areas, and we can make sure that these species are protected and replenished.
We will also be able to identify areas where canopy connectivity needs to be improved to aid sloth dispersal via the installation of wildlife bridges and through targeted reforestation efforts.
You can follow The Urban Sloth Project through our social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube), and also by adopting Sharon, Croissant, and Cacao, where you will receive quarterly updates from our research team!
This project is only possible due to the generosity and kindness of our supporters – thank you for being a part of Team Sloth!
Three-fingered sloth ‘adopts’ a two-fingered sloth baby!
These two sloths are not only different species, but they belong to two completely different families, separated by over 30 million years of evolution. Cross-species adoptions like this are incredibly rare in the wild, with only 3 other documented observations of this happening.
On the 20th December 2020, Gerald Pereira and Oscar Solano Rojas were guiding a group of tourists in Costa Rica. Sloths are a common sight on these tours, but that day they saw something that they had never seen before – nestled quietly amongst the rainforest canopy they spotted an adult three-fingered female tending to a two-fingered baby sloth.
Gerald and Oscar, both with over 11 years of experience working as ecotourism guides, knew they had witnessed something important.
The curious pair were observed in a fragmented strip of rainforest, sandwiched between a river, a pineapple plantation and a busy road. According to Oscar, “in that area, local people take great care of the sloths, so we always go to look there because there is a very large population”.
“Yesterday we started the tour, which we call the ‘Sloth Tour’, as usual. To see them active in the early hours of the day, we started the tour at 6am. Around 8am we arrived at a place where my partner Gerald and I saw a sloth hanging from a Cecropia tree. At first, it did not attract much attention, we saw that she was a female and a baby, but that morning we had already seen 3 baby sloths, and we did not think it was anything special or different from what we had seen. When we paid more attention to them, however, we discovered that it was a three-fingered female and a two-fingered baby.”
“I had already seen the two species in the same tree many times, and at first we thought it was just a coincidence that they were there together. When we found them it seemed like they were waking up. They both started scratching, and then the baby separated from the female, fed on cecropia leaves a little, and I thought that was the end of the interaction.”
“But then you see how the baby returns to the female, and she receives it with total naturalness, that is what surprised us the most. None of us who were there could believe it, neither Gerald nor I, because we had never seen it before. It left me astonished. In rescue centres, I had seen a certain attachment between the two species, but never in their natural habitat, as happened to us yesterday.”
As can be seen in the video footage captured by Gerald and Oscar, it does indeed appear that the two sloths interact with the gentle tenderness of a mother-baby relationship. When they returned to the area the next day, they once again found the pair snuggling together in a shady spot in the canopy. It certainly looks like the bond between these two sloths is much more than just a fleeting interaction. It appears as though the female has formally adopted this baby as her own.
Adult animals adopting unrelated young is nothing new to science, but in most cases these are intraspecies interactions – meaning that they occur between two unrelated individuals of the same species. This has most commonly been observed within sociable species, often herd or pack animals.
Interspecies adoptions – where a female adopts a baby of a different species – is an altogether much rarer occurrence in the wild. In fact, there have only ever been 3 other documented instances of this happening, and it has never before been observed in sloths.
In 2004, a group of capuchin monkeys were documented caring for a baby marmoset, and in 2014 a bottlenose dolphin adopted a baby melon-headed whale and nurtured it for it for 3 years. More recently, a lioness in India was found to have adopted an orphaned leopard cub in 2018 and she raised it alongside her own offspring.
Why do cross-species adoptions occur?
In evolutionary terms, caring for another animal’s offspring like this doesn’t make much sense. Raising a baby demands a lot of time and energy (something which a sloth has a limited supply of), and it is usually done with the purpose of propagating an individual’s own genes. So why do cross-species adoptions like this sometimes happen?
The truth is, scientists are still trying to understand it. Because these events are so rare, there isn’t much information available and each observed case appears to be very different. There are two popular theories:
Instinct: A lot of adult female animals are biologically hardwired through evolution to care for helpless infants. A cross-species adoption might occur accidentally after a female has recently given birth herself, when high levels of the hormone oxytocin encourage her to bond with the orphaned baby (even if it isn’t hers!).
Mutual benefit: If the benefits of the raising an unrelated baby outweigh the costs, this could explain why some interspecies adoptions take place. For example, it could be beneficial for a group of animals to add a new individual that would help to secure more food, or provide added protection. In some social species the simple benefit of companionship may be a driving force! This is unlikely to be an important factor for our solitary sloths though.
How did this happen?
The circumstances surrounding this adoption are not entirely clear, but SloCo founder and sloth expert Dr. Rebecca Cliffe has some ideas about what might have led to this unusual event.
“This is the first time that anything like this has ever been seen before in wild sloths, and it is certainly very interesting. I am used to sloths surprising us, but this has to be one of the most unusual things I have heard about. I suspect there are three possible scenarios which may have led to this happening:
1) Accidental human interference. Maybe someone found the baby sloth alone and tried to ‘reunite’ it with its mother, but accidentally paired it with the wrong sloth. Reuniting baby sloths with their mothers is a surprisingly common requirement for people in Costa Rica as babies are often found alone on the ground after falling from the tree.
A lot of people don’t realise that there are two very different types of sloth, and so they might not have realised what they were doing. In this situation, however, I would expect the adult sloth to reject the baby and so this feels like an unlikely scenario
2) The baby sloth lost it’s own mother, and instinctively clung onto the fur of another sloth. Baby sloths are born with a strong instinct to cling onto mom’s fur, and if they are separated, they tend to cling onto the next best thing. It isn’t impossible to think that this baby may have climbed onto the three-fingered sloth after becoming orphaned. However, in this situation I would also expect to see the adult sloth looking agitated and stressed out by her new uninvited companion – and I doubt the relationship would last more than a few hours.
3) The baby sloth lost its own mother, and the adult sloth recently lost a baby of her own. This unusual combination of events would provide a feasible opportunity for the pair to bond naturally due to a mixture of instincts and hormones. Although extremely rare, I think this is probably the most likely scenario!”
What happens next?
This unprecedented behavior leaves all of us with many questions – particularly regarding the welfare of both sloths! Will the baby survive? It’s certainly possible. While they are different species, they do share a broadly similar ecology.
The diets of both sloths overlap heavily, with both being predominantly folivorous (eating only leaves). Two-fingered sloths tend to be more flexible and adaptive with their choices, while three-fingered sloths are more selective about what types of leaf they will eat. With both species, babies maternally inherit knowledge about which trees are safe to feed from – and this arrangement may work in the baby’s favor!
Furthermore, it appears as though the baby sloth is approximately 7 months old. At this age, the baby would not be as reliant upon a steady source of milk from the mother as the natural weaning process would be taking place. Although the adult female could be producing milk, we don’t think this is essential for the survival of the baby at this stage.
Two-fingered sloths are also much larger than their three-fingered counterparts when fully grown, which means that the adoptive mother may have a challenge on her hands when lugging around her overgrown offspring.
But what happened to the baby’s biological mother? This remains a mystery. Considering the location in which the pair were observed is highly disturbed, it may be that she got into trouble with the busy road or nearby pineapple plantation. Or perhaps there was an accidental baby mix-up, and somewhere in the rainforest, a mother two-fingered sloth is tenderly nurturing a baby three-fingered sloth. It’s doubtful we will ever know for sure.
While there are certainly a lot of challenges for this pair to overcome, here at SloCo we have high hopes for their survival. After the unprecedented global difficulties that 2020 has brought, we are happy to embrace this heart-warming story (which has all the makings of a future Disney movie!).
We will be working closely with both Gerald and Oscar to monitor the two sloths as time goes on – we will keep you updated on their progress! For now, we are keeping our fingers and toes crossed for a happy ending.
It’s with a heavy heart that we must inform our supporters that the wild three-fingered sloth mom that was found to be caring for a two-fingered baby has passed away.
Local guides who were tracking the pair witnessed the mom and baby fall from their tree. Unfortunately, mom did not survive the fall. The baby was uninjured and climbed back up into the tree.
The guides continued to watch over the baby for the rest of the evening, and returned to the spot every day to check on him – but after three days he had ventured off on his own into the rainforest.
We estimate that the baby was around 8 months old, at which point he would naturally begin to distance himself from his mom. Team Sloth is optimistic that his two brilliant sloth moms taught him everything that he needs to know in order to survive in the wild!
Are you thinking about booking a sloth encounter experience at a zoo or rescue center? Before you book, follow our simple guide below to make sure you don’t get tricked into supporting an organization that exploits the sloths in it’s care.
You may have already participated in our successful campaigns to end sloth yoga,sloth sleepover events and sloth swimming lessons – well now it gets worse. ‘Sips with sloths‘ and ‘after school slime with sloths‘.
This is the latest in a string of cruel and exploitative ‘encounter experiences’ being disguised as ‘enrichment’, ‘education’ or conservation. Barn Hill Preserve are unashamedly using sloths as props for their wine tasting and ‘slime making’ events. At these events paying guests are allowed to hold, pet and take selfie photographs with baby sloths.
There is a direct connection between the poaching of wild sloths (which is escalating at an alarming rate), and how people are being allowed to interact with sloths at ‘reputable’ organizations worldwide.
The majority of people don’t realize this link, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t support it – and that is why we are writing this blog. We want to raise awareness and to help people make better informed and ethical decisions in the future.
We aren’t saying that ALL sloth encounters are bad – far from it. We simply want to highlight the main problems and give you an idea of what to look out for when booking one of these experiences.
The big problem
Most organizations hosting hands-on sloth encounters (including Barn Hill Preserve with their sloth wine tasting events) usually justify their events by saying the sloth was rescued, they are educating people or they give money to support sloth conservation. Oh – and that the sloth enjoys the attention. Let’s take a closer look at those claims for a second and get to the root of the problem.
“The sloth was rescued…”
Rescue a sloth. Educate guests. Give money to conservation – great! Give the sloth ethical sources of enrichment to keep it mentally stimulated (as most reputable zoos do) – fantastic! There is absolutely no need to go any further than that.
Don’t force the sloth into a swimming pool, move it into a yoga studio, allow people to hold, pet and take selfie photographs with it – and then have the audacity to call it ‘education’. You can still entertain and educate guests while raising funds without putting the sloth in these stressful situations.
While we care deeply about animal welfare and all of this is very unpleasant for the individual sloth (with scientific evidence proving that all sloths experience abnormal blood pressure reactions in response to human contact due to internalized stress) there is an even bigger concern. There are dangerous knock-on consequences for sloths in the wild.
The only way to stop this from happening to sloths in countries like Costa Rica is to kill the demand at the source. And that requires organizations like Barn Hill Preserve taking responsibility for the fact that they are setting a dangerous precedent for what is an acceptable interaction with a sloth.
Helping sloth conservation? They are doing the exact opposite. Organizations who host events like this tend to prioritize making money over protecting the welfare of the animal.
They can not claim ignorance to the sloth’s stress either – any experienced keeper working with a sloth will know that the animal is uncomfortable when being touched or handled by an unfamiliar person.
Who to believe?
We will leave you with this:
Every single day we are witnessing first-hand the devastating impact of the demand for hands-on wildlife encounters. Just last week a sloth was being held at a banana plantation and tourists were being charged $10 to hold it. The men holding the sloth had connections with local taxi drivers who were waiting at the Limon port as a cruise ship arrived.
Hundreds of people getting off the cruise ship were wanting to see a sloth, and the taxi drivers knew exactly where to take them. That sloth was never rescued. It is either still being held today, or has died from the trauma.
We have absolutely nothing to gain from this situation. We just don’t want to see any more sloths spending their final days being used as a photo prop.
Are any sloth encounter experiences OK?
Yes! Plenty of accredited zoos and aquariums have very ethical sloth encounter experiences available. Here are the top 5 things to look out for:
Do they allow hands-on contact with the sloth? If so, don’t do it. Sloths do not want to be touched or petted under any circumstance.
Is the sloth moved from it’s enclosure? Sloths are creatures of habit and do not like big changes in environment. For some species, being moved or taken on a walk outside may be enriching, but sloths get stressed out by this.
Is the interaction on the sloths terms? If you are holding food out and the sloth comes to take it from you, this is OK and the interaction is on the sloths terms. But if a keeper is having to physically move or disturb the sloth then this becomes stressful.
Does the organization donate to support sloth conservation efforts in the wild? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about this one. Many organizations claim to support conservation efforts but really aren’t doing anything at all. Find out which non-profit they support and check the website of the non-profit to see if the organization is listed as an official supporter.
How many encounter experiences does the sloth participate in each day? We wouldn’t recommend anything above 1 encounter per day. Many good organizations will even reschedule an encounter if the keeper doesn’t think the sloth is feeling up for it.
What can we do to stop the exploitation?
It is easy to feel powerless, but every single one of us has an important role to play. Educate as many people as you can about these issues, and make sure that you properly research any sloth encounter before participating in it. If we all shout loud enough, we can instigate change.
We stopped sloth yoga. We stopped sloth sleepovers. We stopped sloth swimming lessons. We can stop this too. If you know of an organization using sloths in this way, do not be afraid to reach out to them directly to express your concerns!
Cotton swabs, cotton buds, Q-tips – they have a lot of names. Now even these single-use plastic products can be replaced by biodegradable alternatives!
3) Plastic-free toothbrushes and toothpaste
Toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste are a recurrent sources of plastic pollution. Fortunately, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable toothpaste jars are great substitutes!
4) Plastic-free razors
Like toothbrushes, disposable razors are common daily items that lead to an accumulation of plastic waste overtime. Although razors with replaceable heads are better than entirely disposable ones, there are razors that are plastic-free altogether! Paired with the right shaving cream, these plastic-free razors not only reduce your environmental footprint but minimize irritation due to the harsh chemicals found in most shaving foams.
Unfortunately many cosmetics, in addition to being packaged in plastic, are made from chemicals that threaten the health of humans and ecosystems alike. If you are concerned about the products you are currently using you can look up their safety status at the Environmental Working Groups’s Skin Deep database (or download their app!).
Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce plastic usage. However, companies such as Neat, have come up with an even better way to reduce plastic waste.
10) Plastic-free sandwich wraps
Whether or not you are a sandwich eater, these food wraps can be used for a variety of food items. You can even make reusable food wraps at home by choosing a bit of your favorite cloth and melting on some beeswax!
Sloth starts using a wildlife bridge in record time
This video of a three-fingered sloth using a wildlife bridge is the exciting result of the coordinated efforts of many people. We installed a Sloth Crossing for her and she started using it in record time (less than a month!). You might think that a month is still quite a long time, but given that it takes 30 days for a sloth to digest a single leaf, this is quite a fast turn around!
We install Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges like this as part of our Connected Gardens program. These rope bridges connect trees on private properties, ensuring that sloths and other wildlife can safely access these important resources (without having to travel on the ground).
Helping a three-fingered sloth safely reach her favorite trees
This three-fingered sloth is a beloved resident of Annanci Village, a retreat for families visiting the South Caribbean. She spends much of her time nestled among the epiphytes and vines growing on a massive tree. Although the tree is no longer alive, it is covered by plants living on its branches, a perfect place for her to rest and remain hidden.
Fortunately, there isn’t a dog living on the property that could attack her. However, crossing on the ground is a difficult and laborious process for sloths due to their unique and specialized muscle structure. She is also much more vulnerable to predators on the ground than suspended in the tree canopy.
Because they are such creatures of habit, it can be difficult to get sloths to modify their behavior.
An exciting discovery!
Foforo (Yorjes Salazar Elizondo), the manager of Annanci Village, was attending to some clients when he noticed that the sloth was using the rope bridge to reach the cecropia tree!
He ran to get his camera and was able to capture these wonderful photos of her using the bridge! Now she doesn’t have to cross on the ground, giving her easy access to her two favorite trees!
Bobby’s wildlife bridge: how sloth crossings help other species
At Faith Glamping, a unique camping experience for those visiting the South Caribbean, another dangerous situation for wildlife emerged. The owners noticed that a troop of howler monkeys would frequently visit the property, and in order to get across a gap in the trees, they would have to jump.
One time, when a mother howler monkey was jumping across this gap, her baby fell and hit the stump of a tree below, dying upon impact. The owners of the property were heartbroken and named this fallen monkey Bobby. We built a triangle of three rope bridges to connect this valuable tree to others on the property and the owners named the bridge where he fell, Bobby’s bridge.
Imagine if a deep canyon with a raging river at the bottom was created in front of your favorite place to get food. Although you might be motivated enough to hike down and up a canyon and brave the rapids in order to get to your favorite place, it may deter you enough that you may not return. Even if you do manage to reach your favorite spot, you will have risked your safety or exerted much more energy than you did before the obstacle was in place.
How rope bridges reduce the risk of extinction
Rope bridges not only allow for wildlife to safely and more easily access parts of their habitat, they also allow for gene flow – allowing individuals to reproduce with other individuals that they might not have been able to reach before. This allows for more genetic diversity, making the population more resilient to change and reducing the chance of the species becoming extinct.
In the video below, a male three-fingered sloth crossed a road using a rope bridge to reach a female calling to him on the other side (Video: Katra Laidlaw).
Thanks to the coordinated efforts of our generous donors, concerned community members and the SloCo team, many species are now able to safely navigate the habitat that we share with them. Thank you to Animalia, Jennifer, Adam and April for sponsoring Sloth Crossing bridges at Annanci Village and for helping to keep this sloth (and other wildlife) on the property safe.
Coexisting with wildlife can be a mutually beneficial experience. It requires just a bit of compromise from both sides. Willingness on our part to consider how we can modify our shared landscape and behavior in ways that are more accommodating to wildlife, and willingness on their part to adapt to the changes we have made for them.
The good news is that if it is possible for an incredibly habitual creature, like a sloth, to change her ways, it is certainly possible for us to adjust ours.
This map shows all of the places that we have installed Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges (blue) and planted trees through our reforestation efforts (green) thus far (since February 2019).
Would you like to sponsor your own Sloth Crossing?
Each “Sloth Crossing” bridge costs $200 to construct (in the most basic form: a single rope design without a camera trap). If you would like to help us to build more bridges (or personally sponsor your own sloth crossing), you can do so using the links below. If you sponsor a Sloth Crossing then we will install a personalized wooden plaque next to the bridge engraved with a name of your choice (this would make a fantastic gift for any sloth lover)! For gift sponsorships we can also email an information pack as well as photos and a GPS location of the fished bridge and plaque after installation on request (just send us an email after your donation)!
One of the things that I love most about the rainforest is its otherness – trees that stretch into the sky, hosting worlds of life that I may only glimpse from a distance. Entering the forest is a humbling experience, it reminds me of the vastness and diversity of life on this planet and how much there is yet to be seen.
World Rainforest Day is an opportunity to do just that. To acknowledge and thank our rainforests for their many underappreciated contributions to our lives. Like most of the life on this planet, the work of rainforests is largely invisible.
Indigenous people have used the rainforest as a source of sustenance and medicine for millennia. The Amazon rainforest, once considered largely untouched by humans, has been profoundly shaped by indigenous peoples. For 8,000 years, people selectively cultivated and domesticated rainforest species, such as the brazil nut and the cocoa bean, which continue to dominate the forest landscape to this day. It is thanks to the rainforests and the efforts of indigenous peoples’ that we are able to enjoy chocolate today!
Protecting the world’s rainforests ensures that they can continue to bestow their many gifts for our planet. Preventing further encroachment into our wild spaces also reduces our risk for another pandemic while maintaining biodiversity, a powerful tool in our arsenal for climate change resiliency.
You can show the rainforests how much you appreciate them by sponsoring a tree for only $6! We plant a variety of rainforest tree species that are favoured by wild sloths, reconnecting forest fragments and restoring green spaces in urban communities.
Costa Rica exports more pineapples worldwide than any other country.Over 40% of the total exported pineapplescome from Costa Rica, a value worth US$ 981 million. Pineapple production in Costa Rica has been criticized for years following public reports of public health problems linked to the contamination of soil and water by chemical substances used on farms.
Pineapple monocultures are causing serious negative impacts on the environment and on local communities. Even though small and independent farmers exist, the big transnational companies such as Dole or Del Monte maintain all of the power. They set the price to pay to small farmers, endorsing the already existing inequalities in some of the low-income areas of the countries.
Pineapples affect sloth populations
In Costa Rica, rescue centers and sanctuaries are receiving a high number of baby sloths with genetic abnormalities. Most of them show similar deformities: missing or extra fingers/toes, partial or full albinism, misshapen limbs, or malformed ears. Most of these orphaned sloths don’t survive more than a few months. Some of them might reach adulthood but they won’t ever be able to be reintroduced into the wild.
The cause of these abnormalities is likely multifaceted, but two major factors stand out: habitat fragmentation and pesticides. All of the sloths displaying genetic abnormalities are found in areas with high levels of agriculture and rainforest disturbance. Sloths are not the only species to be affected by these problems.
In recent years, reports of mantled howler monkeys with yellow patches in their fur have increased. This is alarming scientists who believe that themonkeys are consuming too much sulfur from pesticides on the leaves they feed on. Most of these animals live in areas close to pineapple and banana plantations, where the pesticides contaminate the entire ecosystem. Both howler monkeys and sloths are folivorous, so they are probably consuming pesticides directly from the leaves they eat.
To properly understand the cause behind the sloth deformities we launched a majorstudy into the genetic health of wild sloth populations in 2016, taking data and hair samples from 100 wild-born sloths. By identifying the cause of the genetic abnormalities, we can develop the correct conservation strategies required to mitigate the problem. The results of this study will be published in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned for the update!
The Rainforest Alliance, a scheme that provides certification to the pineapple producers of Costa Rica, is facing allegations of the illegal use of pesticides and labor exploitation of undocumented immigrants.
Rainforest Alliance says its certified plantations must adhere to certification rules, including “no mistreatment of workers”, and they are required to comply with strict audits and inspections.
The biggest problem is that the inspectors usually only have access to workers and facilities that are prepared by the pineapple plantations. The managers of the plantations often know in advance when the next inspections are coming, and the workers are interviewed in front of their bosses so they are not allowed to tell the truth about the conditions in the plantations.
Pesticides and pollution of pineapples
The use of pesticides is a well-known problem in Costa Rica. Studies conducted by the University of Costa Ricashow the presence of Bromacil (a very dangerous pesticide) in rivers, wetlands and underground waters. Bromacil was banned in 2017, but there are reports of its illegal use nowadays.
El Milano in Siquirres is a community that has been forever damaged by the use of pesticides from neighboring pineapple plantations. In 2003 it was discovered that the primary source of drinking water for the entire community was heavily polluted with dangerous pesticides used in the farms.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the ministry of environment began to transport water to these communities with water-tank trucks. However, the people living there still have to use the polluted tap water whenever the water truck doesn’t arrive. This has led to several people being intoxicated and hospitalized due to pesticide consumption.
During the last 15 years the government of Costa Rica has had to invest 3 million dollars of tax-payer money to deliver clean water to El Milano. The real cost for the rest of these communities is still unknown.
According to satellite images provided by MOCUPP, pineapple plantations occupied 57,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2016. However, the latest government report in 2019 indicates an alarming 300% increase over 3 years. 3,824 hectares of new pineapple plantations are invading protected areas, and 16,386 hectares are found in wetlands.
At the moment there are 88 active lawsuits against pineapple companies in Costa Rica, and there is growing hope for the future that the government can provide sustainable solutions for the people and communities affected.
In 2016, a new 500 hectare pineapple plantation was proposed which would have been located less than five kilometres from the core of the important Térraba-Sierpe wetland ecosystem. Thankfully, the Ministry of Environment of Costa Rica (MINAE) suspended the project due to the imminent environmental impact. Even Carlos Alvarado (the president of Costa Rica) celebrated the decision on his social media:
Several organizations are also working hard to instigate change. The University of Costa Rica has spoken about the negative impacts of this agro-industry and they launched a call to action for politicians, academics, scientists and pineapple companies themselves to change the situation.
The university is also conducting scientific research and developing solutions to promote environmental-friendly farming practices. They also offer support to local communities and provide them with the necessary tools to fight the expansion of pineapple monocultures in their areas.
What can we do to help
What can we do as consumers? We must understand that we have the power. By choosing carefully what kind of products we buy, we can have a positive impact. Think twice before buying that $3 pineapple. Is there an alternative locally grown fruit that you could buy instead? If you need to buy a pineapple, try to find an organic option from an independent farmer and avoid the big monoculture companies that are responsible for so much rainforest destruction. This might be a bit more expensive, but it is nothing compared to the price being paid by the people and wildlife of Costa Rica.
Buying locally grown and organic produce supports small independent farmers and minimizes the greenhouse emissions caused by transporting food around the world. Although it is difficult to avoid this in a globalized world, by choosing where and how we buy these items we can all make an impact.
Many supermarkets simply don’t stock the more ethically and organically produced food. This can usually be changed just by asking! If you let them know that there is a demand for those items then they will find a way to provide them for you. Spend just a little time today contacting your local supermarket, and the knock-on effects will be felt around the world.
A decrease in demand for cheap tropical fruits is the best way to prevent monoculture plantations from encroaching further into the remaining rainforest.
Here at SloCo we are working hard to protect the sloth’s green rainforest home. Every month we grow thousands of ‘sloth-friendly’ trees in our SloCo forest nursery and we plant them in disturbed areas where habitat loss is threatening the survival of wild sloths. These trees not only help to fight climate change, but they also provide food and shelter for sloths!
How are sloths affected by desertification and drought?
As a child, upon hearing that there is an increase in “desertification” worldwide I probably would have been overjoyed, imagining molten brownies and ice cream sundaes overflowing with chocolate syrup. But desertification (with one “s” instead of two), unfortunately, does not consist of a surplus of desserts. It is our present and our future, and a much saltier one at that.
In concrete terms, desertification is caused by overgrazing, deforestation, over-harvesting vegetation for household use (such as burning), and agricultural practices that push fragile, arid land beyond its capacity.
The key to sustainable agriculture is creating systems that coexist and complement the natural ecosystems already in place. Agricultural practices with an emphasis on maintaining biodiversity are key to increasing food security and resilience in the face of climate change.
The link between dessert and desert
Although I may have misunderstood the true meaning of desertification as a child, that ice cream sundae I dreamed of, along with other animal products, are leading drivers of desertification.
The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (June 17) is a campaign to highlight the causes of desertification and drought and bring individuals together in combating them. Every single person has the ability to make a positive difference. And together we can make some incredible changes.
The Great Green Wall
One of the most inspiring collective efforts to combat desertification is the creation of a Great Green Wall across the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The Great Green Wall is an African-led response to the increase in desertification and drought in of the poorest and most vulnerable areas on the planet.
Trees have a remarkable ability to cool down the environment. Similar to how we expel moisture with each breath we take, trees draw up water from the ground and release it through their leaves in a process called transpiration.
“The Great Green Wall is an urgent symbol of hope in the face of the greatest challenges faced by mankind this century from climate change to food security, migration, and resource-driven conflict. It is a compelling example of man and nature working together to create a unique legacy – a new world wonder for the next generation.”
When the tropics go dry
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is known for its rain. However, ever here, we have been experiencing water shortages. Some regions of the country received 75% less rainfall than expected leading the Costa Rican government to declare a state of emergency on July 23, 2019.
How are sloths affected by drought and desertification?
Drought, desertification, rising seas, and the expansion of industrial monoculture plantations are potent threats to sloths here in Costa Rica and in other places.
The tropical rainforest ecosystem where sloths live is drying up. The regular downpours that keep the rainforest lush and green have become irregular and short. Rivers that normally flow year-round have become seasonal streams, and temperatures are gradually increasing and becoming more extreme.
Tropical species are not prepared for these new, erratic weather patterns. They have evolved for millions of years in a relatively stable climatic environment and are therefore very vulnerable to even small changes in temperature and weather.
Sloths are unlike many other mammals because they are unable to regulate their own body temperature. This means that everything they do is dependent upon the weather. If it gets too cold outside, sloths can easily get hypothermia. If it gets too hot, they can overheat. Of particular concern right now in Costa Rica is the lack of rainfall. Sloths are being admitted into rescue centers all over South and Central America suffering from dehydration, and we are seeing a big increase in the number of sloths drinking from rivers.
The Great Green Wall is a shining example of the change that can be accomplished on a local, regional and continental scale.
Coming together to enact change is necessary to redirect our resources in a way that will sustain many future generations of life on this planet. Starting a clothes exchange among your friends, reducing your consumption of animal products and lobbying your local politicians to redirect food subsidies to sustainable agricultureare a few powerful examples of ways that we can all help to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Here at SloCo we are working hard to protect the sloth’s green rainforest home. Every month we grow thousands of ‘sloth-friendly’ trees in our SloCo forest nursery and we plant them in disturbed areas where habitat loss is threatening the survival of wild sloths. These trees not only help to fight climate change, but they also provide food and shelter for sloths!
Predation is the biggest threat posed by domestic dogs to wildlife, followed by the transmission of diseases, competition, and hybridization. The regions most affected by these issues are South-East Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and Australia.
The chances of a sloth encountering a dog are high due to the sheer number of dogs roaming around and the fact that human development is breaking up the sloths habitat. Since sloths can’t jump, they often resort to crawling on the ground to travel between trees in urban areas. A sloth on the ground has no way to defend itself against a dog. If the sloth somehow survives the initial attack, secondary infections from the bite wounds often prove to be fatal.
Myths about sterilization make things harder
Incorrect beliefs about the castration and sterilization of animals, coupled with irresponsible ownership and abandonment, has lead to a large number of stray and feral dogs roaming the streets.
This is a bad scenario as a single female can produce 4 to 5 puppies per litter, twice a year. A lot of people think that all dogs should have puppies because “it makes them happy” or “if they don’t experience motherhood they’ll be sad”. Other pet owners don’t want to sterilize their male dogs because this might “affect the dog’s virility”, despite the proven benefits of neutering them.
Oh My Dog!
The ‘Oh My Dog’ project is a new initiative that we launched in 2019 which aims to reduce the number of dog attacks on wildlife in Costa Rica. This project has a three-pronged approach:
Reduce the need for arboreal animals to travel on the ground. We achieve this by planting trees in target areas and installing wildlife canopy bridges to connect habitat fragments. We work with private property owners who’s dogs have been known to attack wildlife in the garden, as well as with the government of Costa Rica to make urban areas safer for sloths.