Rare record of a sloth giving birth on the ground

Rare record of a sloth giving birth on the ground


Earlier this year, Jenny Berla and her family vacationed in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, where they witnessed an uncommon event – a sloth giving birth on the ground! Sloth births typically occur in trees, making this sighting particularly remarkable.


baby sloth birth
A mother after giving birth hanging on a branch, Costa Rica / Photo: Agustín Murillo

The sloth climbs down

One thing requiring sloths to climb down to the ground is pooping. So when the Berla family saw a female two-fingered sloth, who lives in a sea almond tree in the resort garden, going down to the ground, they thought she was going for her weekly toilet habit. 



But after a few minutes, they were shocked to notice that she was giving birth! Imagine their surprise as they watched this tiny newborn baby climb onto her mother’s back and cling on as she made her way back up to the safety of the canopy.



The new sloth mother then began moving frantically around the branches, from one tree to another, as if she was very distressed. Giving birth is a nerve-wracking event for anyone, and sloths are no exception: they are vulnerable at this time to predators, and so is their new baby.


after birth
The mother and baby after the birth. Photo: Jenny Berla


Jenny looked all over the internet for similar videos. When she found nothing comparable, she contacted SloCo to share the incredible footage taken by one of the resort staff, Jurguen Mora.

Why did the sloth give birth on the ground?

According to Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, “We know sloths give birth low down in the trees because the baby often falls, so it’s much safer for her to do this in the lower branches. If the baby falls, the mom can come down quite quickly and retrieve her before predators come.  I’ve never seen one actually give birth on the ground, though!”


giving birth on the ground
The moment the mother cleans her baby. Footage: Jurguen Mora


Studying sloths is challenging, and behaviors like this often raise multiple questions. For this reason, research such as our Urban Sloth Project provides insight into sloths’ lives, helping us better understand these amazing and mysterious animals.

The importance of trees in urban areas


The good news is that the resort, located on an 11-acre beachfront property, has underground power lines, making it a safe haven for the arboreal animals that call it home, including both species of sloths.


after birth ground
Photo: Jenny Berla


According to Mauricio, a local tour guide associated with the resort, they have always seen both sloth mating species and new babies. It’s important that businesses in Costa Rica, especially those relying on tourism, always operate with wildlife conservation as a priority.

A dream vacation

For the Berla family, this was a delightful event for many reasons. For starters, very few people have been privileged to see a sloth giving birth at all; Evan, the family’s oldest daughter, is, in fact, a huge sloth fan!


All the Berla cousins with a giant sloth!


The family regularly visits their local zoo, and when Evan was informed that the family would be going to Costa Rica to see wild sloths, she couldn’t believe her luck; Little did she know that she would bear witness to a rare event that would turn out to be the memory of a lifetime.


Evan, embracing a stuffed sloth toy in the most perfectly acceptable sloth hug! Photo: Jenny Berla


-Cecilia Pamich

Communications & Outreach

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