Habitat Surveys: Unveiling the Secrets of Sloth Homes

Habitat Surveys: Unveiling the Secrets of Sloth Homes


Habitat surveys are an essential part of the Urban Sloth Project (USP). In these surveys, we make eight squares, each 100 square meters, in the areas where sloths live. We collect GPS locations of the sloths and study the trees in these squares.

This helps us figure out how sloths use what’s around them and why they like certain places. This data is super important because we need to see how different places where sloths live are being changed, especially in areas close to towns and cities.



We then look at this info along with the behavior data from the sloth tracking devices, like the Daily Data Loggers and VHF collars. It lets us understand how changes in their homes affect the sloths.

Kinds of Sloth Habitats

We start by figuring out what kind of area the sloths are in. There are three main types we look at:

  • Urban Areas: These are places near where people live.
  • Secondary Forests: Forests that humans changed before (e.g. for agriculture) but are now growing back on their own.
  • Primary Forests: Pristine forests that humans have never changed, like the untouched La Selva reserve.

We use satellite pictures to see how much of the area has trees and to find smaller forest areas in the big picture. This part is usually easier to do.



Getting into the Details

The harder part is getting all the small details about these forests. We need to know what kinds of trees and plants are there, measure how big and tall the trees are, check how thick the tree tops are, how many trees there are per square meter, see if there are many vines or other plants, and even the number of stems.

To do this, we use special measuring tools, lasers for distances, and basic things like ropes, flags, and tape measures.


Our volunteer Gabriel, measuring the trunk of a tree. Yep, we have to do this with every tree in the jungle!


The Adventure of Surveying Habitats

Actually, going around these areas to collect all this information is a big task and takes quite a bit of time. We often face things like rivers, streams, puddles, and swampy areas that block our way. Sometimes, we explore these areas with canoes or boats! There was this one time when we tried to hop over a small puddle, but ended up sinking in mud up to our hips!


Never trust a puddle in the jungle!


Dealing with Wildlife (and our own fears)

Apart from the tough terrain, we also have to be brave about meeting wildlife like snakes and spiders. These creatures might be hiding under leaves, rocks, or near tree roots, very close to where we’re working. For some people who suffer from a fear of spiders or snakes, the task of dealing with these creatures can be quite challenging!


Tamagá Porthidium nasutum. Rainforest Hog-nosed Pitviper
This is a venomous snake, called Tamagá or Rainforest Hog-nosed Pitviper (Porthidium nasutum)



A way to connect with the forest

In the end, doing these habitat surveys is more than just gathering data. It’s about exploring the wild, working hard, and being courageous, all to learn more about sloths and help them, especially as their natural homes change with the growth of towns and cities.

-José Guzman García


The Urban Sloth Project

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