Sloth starts using a wildlife bridge in record time

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.

 

Her favorite tree to rest (if you look carefully in the second photo you can see her climbing up the trunk)/Photos: Katra Laidlaw

 

The owners of the property noticed that she frequently would come down from the tree and cross on the ground in order to access a Cecropia tree, a favorite food of sloths and monkeys alike.

 

wildlife bridge sloth crossing
Her daily commute from her favorite tree to rest (far left) to her favorite Cecropia tree to eat (far right)/Photo: Katra Laidlaw

 

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.

 

wildlife bridge at south caribbean
Before the bridge was installed, she would cross on the path, often getting crowded by tourists staying on the property/Photo: Katra Laidlaw

 

 

Bridging the gap

The owners of the property reached out to Patricio Silfeni (Pato), our Connected Gardens manager, and asked if we could install a rope bridge to connect her two favorite trees.

Thanks to our talented tree climber, Gallo Adolfo, we were able to quickly install a Sloth Crossing to bridge the gap.

Installation of an aerial wildlife bridge
Our talented tree climber, Gallo, installing a sloth crossing/Photo: Patricio Silfeni

Creatures of habit

Sloths are habitual creatures. Once they have established a routine, they will follow the same route to the same trees. Sloths will spend their first year of life clutching to their mother’s chest, tasting the leaves that she eats, and learning her habits. Once they become independent, it is actually the mother that will find another home range, leaving her offspring to remain in the place where they were born.

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!

 

sloth on a wildlife bridge
Photos and cover image provided by Foforo (Yorjes Salazar Elizondo)

 

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.

Bobby’s bridge at Faith Glamping/Photos: Gallo Adolfo, Patricio Silfeni

How wildlife bridges help ecosystems

Bridges like these help wildlife and ecosystems in a variety of ways. They mitigate the effects of habitat fragmentation (when a habitat is divided into smaller, isolated pieces). When trees are removed to make way for properties and roads, parts of the habitat can become difficult, dangerous or impossible for wildlife to access. Tropical and temperate forest ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the effects of habitat fragmentation.

Map of habitat fragmentation due to roads in Costa Rica: protected areas (dark green), biological corridors (light green) and the national highway system (grey)/Photo: Panthera

 

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.

 

Sloth road wildlife bridge
Caption: Crossing on the ground is dangerous and difficult for sloths./ Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

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).

 

It takes a village

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)!

 

-Katra Laidlaw

Sloth Crossings Manager