World Wildlife Day: why do we celebrate this day

World Wildlife Day

A Day to Celebrate!

World Wildlife Day is the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife. On the 3rd of March in 1973 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was born.

CITES is an international agreement between governments with the purpose of regulating the trade of species and preventing them from being over-exploited. Today approximately  5,800 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants are protected by CITES – including two of the six species of sloth!

The 3rd of March is an opportunity to celebrate the amazing biodiversity that we share our planet with, and to raise awareness of the problems threatening the delicate balance that sustains all life on Earth.


world wildlife day
All species are dependent on each other for survival. Sloth hair is home to a whole ecosystem that is found nowhere else on earth. This includes several different species of fungi / algae, and a type of moth called the sloth moth!

Everyone is at risk

Today the biodiversity our planet is facing lots of dangers. The devastating impacts of climate change are not only affecting people: wild species also suffer from heatwaves, intensified storms, droughts and floods.

Last year the world was shocked by the intentional bush-fires that were started in Brazil to clear land for livestock. It is hard to calculate the sheer number of plants and animals that were lost in the Amazon Rainforest fires. Sloths were likely one of the most affected species in this disaster, however no one currently knows how badly the populations were affected. Sadly, this catastrophe was soon exceeded by the total ecosystem destruction that occurred with the Australian bush fires.

The recent and ongoing Coronavirus outbreak also highlights the dark side of the wildlife trade. Experts think that the virus jumped from animals to people at a wildlife market in China. In response the government have banned the buying, selling, and eating of wild animals in an effort to prevent zoonotic diseases from spreading. This is great news, but do we really need to wait for a viral epidemic before we act on these issues?

pangolin coronavirus
Pangolins might be the cause of the Coronavirus outbreak. They are also the most trafficked animals in the world.


Losing wildlife means losing opportunities to improve our lives

Today about 40% of modern medicines come from rainforest plants. That is an impressive statistic when we consider that only 5% of Amazon plant species have been studied for their potential medicinal benefits.

Even our beloved sloths may have closer links to our own health than we ever realised. Sloths carry a unique ecosystem in their fur: a colony of moths (called ‘sloth moths’) and several different species of green algae and fungi that provide wonderful camouflage for the sloth.

When studying fungi from sloth hair, researchers “found a broad range of activities of the fungi against bugs that cause malaria and Chagas disease, as well as against human breast cancer cells.Could sloths be carrying the cure to cancer in their fur? It is certainly possible! What other possible cures might be out there? Estimates suggest that the total number of fungi species in the world exceeds 5 million, yet fewer than 100,000 of these have been described.

How many other amazing opportunities for improving our health and social development are we missing due to the high rates of habitat and species loss?


world wildlife day sloth green algae fungi
Brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and his distinctive green coat.

Why is this important?

Last year it was declared that the rapid loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic for humanity as climate change. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction – with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.

The links between biodiversity and nature, and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries are undeniable. The richness of species and the interactions among all living creatures is what makes this an inhabitable planet. If we lose this richness, our own existence – not only as a civilization – but as a species, is at risk. Humans will become the last endangered species if we continue down this path.


Photo: ©FAO/Dino Martins
Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives. A lot of pollinators are under threat of disappearing / Photo: ©FAO/Dino Martins


It’s not too late, but we have to act now!

With the news full of apocalyptic stories of wildfires and species extinctions, it can be easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed – but please don’t ever underestimate the power that you have in your small day-to-day actions.

One person at a time, one day at a time, and one project at a time, we all have the ability to make a serious difference that will leave a lasting impact on the world.

What are you going to do today that will make the world a better place? You could leave the car at home, order the vegetarian option for dinner, turn off the water while you brush your teeth, or skip that extra coffee and use the money saved to plant a tree for sloths instead!


world wildlife day actions to help the enviroment


The time to take action is now!




Love and Respect for Sloths

Love and Respect for Sloths

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

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


The sloth’s calm demeanor can also be misleading.

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

Check out the sloth t-shirts available at (benefiting sloth conservation)


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

Respect, Say NO to sloth yoga.

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

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

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

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

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

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


-Katra Laidlaw


The Wildlife Selfie Problem

The Wildlife Selfie Problem

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

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

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

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


#1. The impact on the animal


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

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

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

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

The Ugly Picture

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


Changing the Future

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

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

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


Are there any exceptions?


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

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


The Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code:

sloth selfie code

1. Give the sloth lots of space!

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

2. Take photos without the flash of your camera

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

3. Make slow movements and keep the volume down

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

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

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

5. Keep it off social media

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

Sloth Problems (and how to solve them)

Sloth Problems (and how to solve them)

Here we detail the 7 biggest threats to wild sloth populations and explain what we are doing to help. In all cases, the best approach is through the development of long-term conservation solutions that provide sustainable ways for sloths to coexist with the people sharing their habitat. We have developed a range of community-based programs that help us to achieve this mission.


1) Loss of Habitat

Kicking things off with the number 1 threat to wild sloth populations in Costa Rica – habitat loss. Sloths rely on a continuous rainforest canopy for survival as they are physically unable to traverse big gaps between trees. As humans encroach further and further into the rainforest, more trees are cut down and the forest is fragmented which leaves the sloths very vulnerable.

We are already seeing the negative impacts of habitat loss in Costa Rica, with sloth numbers falling in the wild and genetic abnormalities spreading throughout populations. We are working hard to help sloths in disturbed areas by restoring and protecting critical sloth habitats. This includes reforestation (with tree species favored by sloths), the creation of biological corridors and protected forest reserves.

sloth problems

One of our biggest goals is to protect and shield the remaining sloth habitat in the South Caribbean region from development through strategic land purchases. We have launched the “Save an Acre” campaign to help us in this mission. Read more about how we are fighting to save sloth habitats and see how you can help


2) Power line electrocutions

It is difficult to sugarcoat this topic, but it is important for us to talk about it to raise awareness and work towards a solution for the sloths. There are more than 3000 wildlife electrocutions every single year in Costa Rica, over half of the electrocuted animals are sloths, and the survival rate following electrocution is only about 25%.

sloth problems


If the sloth somehow survives beyond the initial electrocution, the rehabilitation process usually involves the amputation of limbs which leaves the individual unable to return to the wild. We have to work together to stop this from happening, which is why we are raising funds to insulate power lines and electrical transformers.


3) Genetic isolation and deformities

This problem is one that we urgently need to understand before we can develop a solution. Sloths in Costa Rica (particularly on the Caribbean coast) are frequently being born with birth defects and genetic abnormalities. These include missing fingers/toes, malformed ears, misshapen limbs and partial or full albinism. High numbers of birth defects like this in any population are a warning sign that something is seriously wrong.

sloth problems

We suspect that the deformities are the direct result of either extensive habitat fragmentation or the excessive use of pesticides for agriculture. However, before we can develop any targeted conservation strategies, we have to identify and fully understand the root cause of the problem – and that means completing the necessary genetic research.

We have been working hard on this project for many years, and the results of this project have now been published and they reveal an unexpected situation with far-reaching implications for future sloth conservation and rescue efforts.

Today we want to say THANK YOU to all of our supporters who made this work possible!


4) Urban development

When the forest is disturbed and trees are cut down, sloths are forced to risk their lives by traveling on the ground or by using the electricity lines. Sloths should be the most abundant large mammals in a healthy tropical rainforest, however, they are now considered to be a conservation concern in Costa Rica because numbers are falling rapidly.

sloth problems

We are trying to mitigate these problems by protecting and restoring habitat connectivity in urban areas. This involves:

  • Planting trees
  • Building artificial wildlife bridges to help sloths navigate urban areas safely
  • Working with property developers to conduct free ‘sustainable development’ surveys – making sure that all new development projects are done in a way which causes minimal damage to the environment and to the native wildlife!
  • Read more: Connected Gardens Project


5) Roadkills

Without a natural or artificial canopy bridge, the only way for a sloth to cross a road is by crawling, which takes a lot of time and energy and leaves them very vulnerable to traffic collisions, dog attacks, and human disturbance. We have identified the key areas along the South Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where sloths regularly cross the road and we are currently constructing specialized ‘sloth crossings’ canopy bridges to connect the trees on either side.

sloth problems


We are also constructing Sloth Crossing bridges within and between private properties in urban areas. For all of our Sloth Crossing installations, we like to monitor what animals use the bridges by using camera trap technology. Find out more about this project and see how you can sponsor a sloth crossing for yourself or as a gift for a loved one!


6) Tourism and the illegal pet trade

Sloths are the number 1 victim of the ‘wildlife selfie trade’ – they are taken from the wild in huge numbers to be sold for photo/interaction experiences. Being handled by strangers causes huge stress and anxiety for wild sloths, and most die within 3-6 months of being held captive.

sloth problems


We are raising awareness of these issues by:

  • Establishing permanent signage in high tourist areas to promote responsible “sloth tourism”,
  • Educate people on what they should do if they see a sloth being offered for holding or photo opportunities (call the authorities or a local rescue center).
  • Working with local hotels, businesses, and restaurants, particularly those with sloths frequenting their property, through our accreditation program ‘Sloth Friendly Network’. We provide wildlife bridges, trees, and information leaflets and posters to help educate guests about the problems that sloths are facing.
  • Working with local children through our educational outreach programs to encourage the protection rather than the exploitation of wildlife,
  • Coordinating international online campaigns to combat the ‘wildlife selfie’ and illegal pet trade markets.


7) Dog attacks

We love dogs, but domestic and stray dog attacks are now the second leading cause of death for wild sloths in Costa Rica. Sloths are not equipped to defend themselves against these attacks because dogs should not be a problem for an animal that lives high up in the trees!

However, the rapid development of the sloths’ habitat means that the connectivity between neighboring trees is being lost and the sloths are being forced to travel around on the ground where they are vulnerable.




We are working with a local dog shelter to fund the spaying/neutering of rescued dogs. The goal is to decrease the number of stray dogs in the South Caribbean. We are also coordinating responsible pet ownership campaigns and building  ‘sloth crossing’ wildlife bridges in urban areas in Costa Rica to keep sloths safely off the ground!


How can you help?

If you want to know how you can help sloths from the comfort of your own home, we have compiled a list of 7 simple things that you can do every day to help sloths! One person at a time, one day at a time, and one project at a time, we all have the ability to make a serious difference that will leave a lasting impact on the world. Don’t ever underestimate the power that you have in your day-to-day actions!

You can also make a donation or symbolically adopt a sloth!

New Sloth Crossing Wildlife Bridges

This month we are delighted to have installed 2 new Sloth Crossing wildlife bridges in the South Caribbean region of Costa Rica!

‘Sloth Crossings’ are artificial bridges that we install between trees to link fragmented habitats together and allow wildlife a safe route of passage. Behind power line electrocutions, the biggest threats to the survival of wild sloths in Costa Rica are dog attacks and road traffic collisions. Both occurrences stem from habitat fragmentation forcing sloths to descend to the floor and crawl across the ground where they are extremely vulnerable. In order to keep the sloths safely up in the trees and away from danger, we build Sloth Crossing bridges across roads and in places where the once-continuous rainforest has been disturbed by development.


These wildlife bridges also mitigate a much less talked about problem – inbreeding. Sloths are very vulnerable to habitat loss because it makes travelling to find a mate very difficult. As the world’s slowest mammal, sloths cannot run nor jump, and so any gap in the forest canopy represents a major barrier to movement.

Image of sloth crossing road
A sloth risks it’s life to cross a road – a daily sight in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

Why is this a problem?

Well, it is very important that sloths are able to move far enough away from their immediate relatives to avoid accidentally breeding with them in the future. When inbreeding happens, it causes something called ‘a loss of genetic diversity’ in the population, and this is really bad news for the health of wild sloths. All species rely on genetic diversity for survival because it allows them to evolve in response to things such as changing environmental conditions, shrinking habitats, or new diseases.

Inbred offspring are also more likely to be born with fertility issues and physical deformities. If you have a small patch of forest in a semi-urban area, and it is surrounded by roads and development, then the sloths living in that patch of forest are going to become isolated and will breed with each other over generations. Throughout the South Caribbean region, we are already starting to see the detrimental effects of inbreeding on the genetic health of wild sloth populations, with young sloths frequently being born with congenital defects (including missing digits, malformed limbs, jaw deformities, albinism etc.). As a part of our sloth conservation efforts we have been researching this issue over the last 6 years and we will be publishing the scientific paper later this year. Click here to read more about our sloth genetics projects!

Baby sloth with deformities
Sloths are being born with physical deformities due to inbreeding caused by habitat fragmentation. This sloth has missing fingers.


Our most basic Sloth Crossing design consists of a single rope secured between two hardwood trees. We then grow carefully chosen species of native vine (which can grow up to 3 feet per day and reach a diameter of over 1 foot) along the rope, which will eventually create a natural bridge for wildlife. This is the cheapest and easiest option, but does have some drawbacks. The maximum distance that we can span with a single rope is limited to about 30 meters and some animals do not like to use this style of bridge. We suspect this is because the rope moves too much which makes them nervous, and they likely feel very exposed and vulnerable while crossing without any canopy cover.  Our more extensive design consists of support posts and a flat metal grid, along which we grow plants and vines. The added stability and vegetation cover make this an optimal choice for wildlife, however building costs are higher and logistics of installation more difficult.

A single rope Sloth Crossing wildlife bridge
A single rope Sloth Crossing wildlife bridge

For all of our Sloth Crossing installations we like to monitor what animals use the bridges by using camera trap technology. These special wildlife cameras are programmed to start recording video whenever the sensors detect heat or movement. Unfortunately, however, we have discovered that sloths move too slowly to trigger the motion detector, and their body temperature is too low to trigger the heat sensor! They sneak past undetected! We are still trying to find cameras that will work for detecting sloths when they use our Sloth Crossing canopy bridges.

camera trap on a sloth crossing
We use camera traps to monitor the use of the bridges by different species

Thank you to our community partners and to all of our supporters who make this work possible – we couldn’t do it without you!

We would like to extend special thanks to Tasty Dayz Hostel and Geckoes Lodge for hosting the latest Sloth Crossing bridges on their properties! Community participation and support is essential to the success of any conservation effort, and we strive to maintain a strong community-based approach to all of our programs. We have many more Sloth Crossings being built over the next few months, so we will be sure to provide further updates here as they happen!


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 by donating via the PayPal link below (be sure to include your preference as “sloth crossings” in the optional box!

Sloths need more than just Cecropia for survival

Sloths need more than just Cecropia for survival

Why do scientists sometimes feel the need to jump to extra conclusions, just so that they can have an eye-catching story for the media? This can be incredibly dangerous for the conservation of a species, particularly when the extra conclusion is wildly incorrect.  Here at SloCo we are dedicated to correcting the inaccurate information on sloths that is frequently published! Here is the latest one:

Recent research that has been picked up in the media this week concludes that sloths are “more adaptable to urban areas than we previously thought”. This is an eye catching tagline, but is unfortunately a complete misinterpretation of the studies results (…again)! In fact, sloths might be one of the least adaptable species imaginable, and to incorrectly claim otherwise is damaging for conservation efforts. The conclusion was based on genetic research in a cacao plantation which found that sloths with a high number of a particular tree species (cecropia) in their home ranges had higher survival rates and sired more offspring. That by itself is an interesting finding and suggests that planting cecropia trees could be useful for the conservation of sloths in urbanised areas (although this is already being done, as we have known for a long time that sloths utilise these trees when they are available). Either way, it is a nice result and gives scientific evidence to the benefit of these trees. They should have left it there. The story might not get picked up by the Conversation or the New York Times, but it is good science and helpful for conservation. Unfortunately, however, the authors and associated media went one step further and have insinuated that as long as cecropia trees are present in a given area then sloth populations should thrive (i.e. sloths can adapt perfectly well to the urbanisation of the rainforest and we have no need to worry, as long as we make sure there are enough cecropia trees dotted around). This tunnel-vision conclusion is where the problems arise.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Wild sloth crossing pavement at Sanctuary Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

Anybody that has worked with sloths in the wild for a significant length of time will know that they are not resource limited i.e. they do not struggle to find enough food, even in urban areas. It takes a sloth approximately 1 month to digest a single leaf and so they really can’t eat very much on a daily basis due to their constantly full stomachs. They subsist on a handful of leaves per day to meet their minimal energy requirements. Furthermore, they are known to feed from over 90 different tree species (i.e. a pretty diverse diet), and so as long as some of these trees are available, they won’t starve to death. It has been scientifically proven for a long time that sloths consume a wide variety of leaves, and so the groundbreaking discovery that they feed on trees other than cecropia isn’t actually a discovery at all – it’s just reiterating what we already know. Just because the authors noticed juvenile sloths utilising trees other than cecropia definitely doesn’t make sloths “more adaptable than previously thought”.

Sloths don’t NEED cecropia in their home range for survival at all – indeed these trees rarely grow in healthy rainforests (which is actually the sloths ideal habitat for survival and where they likely sire even more offspring). Similarly, however, many scientists do not like to study sloths in healthy rainforests because of the remote / difficult tracking conditions and dense canopy cover obscuring observations. As a result, there is very little data from pristine sloth habitats for comparison! To therefore conclude that “cecropia trees are critical for the survival and reproductive success of adult sloths” becomes a little ridiculous.

Cecropia trees are already very common in urban areas as they are a fast growing, pioneering species. For this reason we use these trees in our reforestation and canopy connectivity projects, however sloth numbers are still declining at an accelerating and alarming rate. Despite the abundance of cecropia trees, rescue centres in Costa Rica are receiving 1-2 sloths every single day. The truth is that sloth populations are in rapid decline for 3 reasons that have nothing to do with cecropia tree availability (but everything to do with the sloths inability to adapt to habitat disturbance):
1. Power line electrocutions
2. Dog attacks
3. Road traffic collisions

Sloths irrefutably need all of the help they can get, regardless of how many cecropia trees there are. We do not deny that the basic findings of the publication are useful, but to publish them with the associated tagline that “sloths are more adaptable to deforestation than previously thought” (just to make the story attractive for the media) is potentially catastrophic to sloth conservation, awareness and fundraising efforts.

Sloths and Palm Oil: how can you help?

The world is waking up to the palm oil crisis that has driven orangutans to the brink of extinction, but is boycotting palm oil really the answer? Unfortunately no, but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless.

Last week the UK supermarket chain Iceland shone the international spotlight on palm oil after its controversial Christmas TV advert was banned from British television. The advert, which depicts an orangutan hiding in a child’s bedroom after loggers destroyed his rainforest home, has now been watched over 30 million times online making it one of the most successful Christmas adverts ever created. Similar to the anti-plastic movement that is sweeping across the world, this advert has stimulated an uproar against the palm oil industry. While it has been overwhelmingly successful at raising awareness of a very important issue, fears are growing as increasing numbers of people are demanding a boycott on palm oil. This is dangerous.

Palm oil is used in approximately 50% of everything that we buy, ranging from food and shoes to cosmetics and cleaning products. It is everywhere and the demand is huge. Consequently, palm oil plantations are responsible for the majority of Malaysian and Indonesian deforestation, with a football pitch-sized area of forest being cleared every 25 seconds in Indonesia alone! However this is not just an issue affecting Asia. Palm oil plantations are also springing up in place of the sloths rainforest habitat in South and Central America, further adding to the ecosystem destruction occurring due to crops such as soy, bananas and animal agriculture.

Boycotting palm oil, however, doesn’t mean that manufactures will simply remove oil from their products all together. It simply means that they will be forced to replace it with a different kind of vegetable oil. Unfortunately, palm oil is already the worlds most productive oil crop. All alternative oils such as soybean and rapeseed require up to 10 times more land to produce the same amount of product – increasing demand on these crops would be even worse. In addition, boycotting palm oil will drive the price down, consequently increasing the demand for use in biofuel and livestock feed, particularly in countries such as China and India.

So what can we do?
Thankfully the answer applies to all aspects of consumerism, and will have benefits for species and habitats globally (including sloths!): sustainable shopping. Think carefully about the products that you buy because as the consumer, you have the power. Only choose products from manufacturers and retailers who use ingredients from sustainable, certified, legal and deforestation-free sources. They exist, you just have to know which ones to look for! We know this sounds like a lot of hard work – who has time to read every label and search online for every product that you want to buy? But the good news is you don’t have to! There is a wonderful (and free!) bar-code scanning app called Giki that will do all of the hard work for you. Just scan the product that you want to buy and it will tell you all of the information you could ever want to know about that product. Whether it’s local pollution, global climate change, conservation, animal welfare or health, it will give you everything that you need to make an informed decision! Thankfully, using this app will also help you to avoid fruit and produce that is contributing to the sloth deformity epidemic in Costa Rica by way of rampant pesticide usage and forest fragmentation. It’s a win for everybody!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Costa Rica does not have an unusually high sloth population.

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

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

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


urban sloth
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Loss of sloth habitat

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

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

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


Change in forest cover in Costa Rica between 1940 – 2005

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

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

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


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


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


The other side of  ‘Sloth Tourism’

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

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

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



Size (miles 2)Population

% Forested

% Primary Forest

Costa Rica

20,0005 million523.5




3.2 million207 million6250
Panama31,0004 million58


Colombia441,00048 million59


Peru496,00032 million54



So what can we do about it?

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

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

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


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


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

Why did the sloth cross the road?

Why did the sloth cross the road?

For many species, the construction of a road slicing through the forest is an unwelcome inconvenience. Animals that can leap, such as monkeys, may be able to traverse the gap in the forest canopy without too much difficulty. However, if the gap is too large, animals are forced to descend to the ground and take their chances dodging traffic.

In this situation, being able to move fast is helpful. Unfortunately for sloths, leaping is impossible and speed is certainly not their forte. As a result, when a sloth encounters a road it is somewhat catastrophic.



Sloths are not very agile on the ground.

Their long limbs and elongated hook-like digits are adapted to support the weight of their body when hanging upside down, suspended from a tree branch for prolonged periods – a feat that almost all other animals would struggle to do. But when sloths are on the ground, their body weight pushes downwards on their limbs with gravity and they are forced to support themselves in the exact opposite way.

However, as awkward and ungainly as they may seem in this position, they are perfectly capable of walking – it just takes them a little while longer to reach their destination! Running is simply out of the question, and so when it comes to crossing a road, sloths cannot ‘dodge’ traffic.

Instead, they slowly venture out into the oncoming cars and chance their survival on drivers stopping and waiting for them to pass. This may seem like a suicide mission, and indeed it is why so many sloths fall victim to road collisions across South and Central America every day.



So why bother crossing the road in the first place?

Sloths have survived for millions of years in the undisturbed rainforest canopy. In this stable environment, they don’t need to be flexible in their behaviors. Due to their slow rate of digestion (taking 30 days to digest just one leaf) and low-calorie food choice (leaves), sloths have very little energy at their disposal.

Therefore, in order to survive in a way that minimizes energy expenditure, sloths have become the ultimate creatures of habit. Highly specific home-ranges and preferences for particular ‘modal’ trees are passed on from mother to infant, and a sloth will maintain this preference for the rest of its life.

They know exactly which trees to feed on to acquire essential nutrients (while avoiding over-consumption of toxins) and they have no need to modify this pattern. Therefore, if a road is suddenly built which divides their home-range in half, a sloth will have no choice but to descend from the safety of the canopy and make the treacherous journey to the other side.




Sadly, it is not just the traffic that poses a threat to sloths in this situation. Poorly-insulated power lines are strung along every road in Costa Rica and electrocutions are one of the leading causes of sloth mortalities.

Concrete drainage ditches that run alongside many roads are death traps for wildlife, and when on the ground in an urban environment, sloths have no way to defend themselves and are vulnerable to attacks from both dogs and humans.


What can we do to help?

Several organizations are working to construct wildlife canopy bridges across major roads which are successful in facilitating the movements of numerous species. Although sloths have been known to utilize these bridges, they do not have the energetic flexibility to travel long distances to find a crossing.

If there is no canopy bridge in the immediate area where they need to travel, they will continue to cross the road on the ground. We need to ensure there are frequent bridges lining busy roads and that natural canopy crossings are maintained wherever possible.

Power lines need to be better insulated, or in an ideal world, moved underground. But most importantly, we need to respect the remaining forest and try to minimize any further disturbance to the sloths’ existing habitat. This will not be easy – with the human population increasing at an exponential rate we are never going to stop encroaching on the rainforest.

But perhaps we need to start compromising. If we want to see the survival of wildlife, we can no longer simply bulldoze everything in our path to make way for towns, farms, and cities. We need to protect key areas, consider the habitat requirements of species and make sure that we conserve the essential components. We need to learn how to co-exist.

~ Rebecca Cliffe

CALL TO ACTION – the sloth “sanctuary” of Oregon

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

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

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

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


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

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

Oregon senators:

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

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

CNN (recently produced this article on the center):

twitter handles: @CNNMoney @cnn @TeamCNN


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:

Humane Society:







Yours Sincerely,
Rebecca Cliffe,
Founder and Executive Director