Meet La Selva Sloths: George, Misty, and Selvina
We are entering the next phase of the Urban Sloth Project! The aim of the Urban Sloth Project (USP) is to understand how urbanization and habitat disturbance are affecting the lives of sloths and their ecology.
To achieve this, we are gathering data from sloths living in urban areas and comparing it with sloths in undisturbed environments, like pristine forests untouched by human activity. We chose the perfect location for this next phase: La Selva Biological Station and Reserve.
La Selva is an area of primary rainforest bordering the stunning Braulio Carrillo National Park on the Caribbean Slope of Costa Rica. This area is an ideal starting point to monitor and tag sloths living in healthy habitats.
Our visit to La Selva spanned several days, split into two trips. On our first trip, we successfully collared two three-fingered sloths, George and Misty, and Selvina, a two-fingered sloth, on our second trip.
George of the Jungle
George, the first sloth we successfully captured for collaring at La Selva, proved to be an extraordinary find. We encountered George on the second day of our expedition.
George was at a convenient height for Dayber to climb. Initially, it appeared to be a straightforward task, but the jungle environment presents challenges. During the ascent to George, Dayber encountered a few bullet ants (Paraponera clavata). These ants possess one of the most painful stings in the world, and Dayber got stung several times!
George stood out as one of the lushest and greenest sloths we have ever encountered. His magnificent green fur provided excellent samples for our collaborative research with Dr Max Chavarria from the Universidad de Costa Rica to further study sloth fur. Chavarría recently published a study highlighting the potential antibiotic properties found within sloth fur.
Misty, the sloth with a cloudy eye
After we collared George, we spent a couple of days searching for more sloths, but all of them were high and unreachable. On the last day of our first trip to La Selva, we were on the verge of giving up when a colleague informed us about a sloth located at a low height near the research station’s living quarters. To our delight, we didn’t even need to climb a tree this time; a ladder was sufficient to reach her!
Misty turned out to be larger than George, and she had significant cataracts in one of her eyes. We named her Misty to honor the cloudy appearance of her eye and the misty ambiance of the rainforest where she resides.
Interestingly, this is not the first time we have observed wild sloths with cataracts in their eyes. However, since no comprehensive studies have been conducted, we still don’t know the causes and effects of this condition on sloths.
During our second trip to La Selva, we initially spotted several sloths high up in the canopy, well out of our reach. However, on the second day of our second expedition, we found a young two-fingered sloth residing low down. Interestingly, a larger two-fingered sloth on a nearby branch could indicate a mother-offspring relationship. However, the light was fading by this time, and there wasn’t enough daylight left to begin collaring sloths. We left the area as darkness fell, hoping both sloths would remain in the same trees overnight.
Returning the following day, we successfully located both sloths using our thermal drone. We decided to collar the smaller sloth, Selvina, as she was in a more accessible position and would be easier to handle than a fully mature adult Choloepus.
After collaring Selvina and collecting essential data such as weight, measurements, fur samples, and blood samples, we returned her to her tree. Selvina’s presence in the project is particularly valuable, as it provides us with data on a juvenile sloth establishing its territory.
The GPS collars
GPS collars have revolutionized our research efforts, allowing us to gather data more efficiently. In the past, these collars were bulky and heavy, and not to mention very expensive, making them unsuitable for sloths. However, technological advancements have resulted in smaller and lighter GPS collars, allowing us to finally utilize this valuable tool.
One significant advantage of GPS collars is their automatic release system. After six months, the collars open and fall to the forest floor. This eliminates the need for a second capture to remove the collar from the sloth, reducing stress and disturbance to the animals.
Unlike our VHF collars, GPS collars also offer the advantage of not requiring active daily monitoring by researchers. While we are introducing you to George, Misty, and Selvina, we won’t be providing monthly updates on their lives as we do for the urban sloths we monitor daily in Puerto Viejo.
Once the collars are retrieved, all the collected data will be sent to Swansea University to analyze and interpret the information.
Although we’ll keep using our old methods in Puerto Viejo, the utilization of GPS collars marks a significant milestone in our research, and we are excited about the new possibilities this technology will bring.
Urban Sloth Project