Why Sloths Do Not Make Good Pets

Why Sloths Do Not Make Good Pets

A while ago, the internet went crazy over the story of a five-month-old baby girl and her best friend: a pet sloth. The story was accompanied by photos and a video that quickly went viral, attracting attention from all over the world.

The photos are admittedly cute and the resultant media-splash catapulted sloths back into the spotlight – but we fear that the negative repercussions may have outweighed the benefits on this one. So here are the top 5 reasons why sloths do not make good pets (and should not be brought into your home).

1. Sloths are wild animals

The main reason that sloths do not make good pets is that they are wild animals. Although they have the reputation of being sleepy, easygoing animals they are best suited for life in the canopy of the tropical rainforest.

Dogs, cats, horses, and other domesticated animals have adapted to live alongside people. They have undergone a variety of physical and behavioral changes, such as fear of humans and aggression slowly decreasing over many generations. As a result, they are fundamentally different from their wild counterparts. Simply put, sloths have not undergone the changes that our beloved dogs and cats have. They still possess all of their wild qualities, which make them unsuitable pets.

Sloths have developed a variety of traits to help them live in the wild. For example, a sloth’s fur grows in the opposite direction to that of other mammals (from the stomach towards the back) helping rainwater drip off their body./Wild sloth photographed by Suzi Eszterhas

2. Sloths are solitary, prey animals

What is the first animal that comes to mind when you think of the word prey? A rabbit? A herd of racing zebras? Many prey animals rely on their speed to escape predators. So how could such a slow-moving animal escape from predators?

The answer lies in their winning evolutionary strategy – to go unnoticedBy moving slowly and carefully around the forest canopy, sloths are able to largely go undetected. However, if sloths lived in groups, if a harpy eagle got its claws on one of them the others would not be able to escape in time. Living quiet, solitary lives is essential for their survival.

Aside from mating and raising young, sloths are solitary creatures./Image of pale-throated sloth with offspring by Suzi Eszterhas

Because sloths are solitary, wild animals, they prefer to be alone. They do not crave human attention like dogs or cats. Nor do they like to be petted, groomed, or bathed because these are not natural behaviors for them. Moreover, because they are prey animals, a human hand moving towards them can be incredibly threatening and stressful.

3. Sloths have big teeth (and they like to use them)

Sloths might look fluffy but they are certainly not teddy-bears – they are wild animals with big, sharp teeth. Sloth teeth grow continuously and rub against each other when they chew resulting in some impressively sharp teeth.

skull
The skull of a two-fingered sloth

We have worked with hundreds of sloths over the years, (both wild and human-reared) and they can all inflict serious injuries if scared or irritated. We have seen a sloth bite through a human hand leaving a hole big enough that you could look through.

In addition to their seriously sharp teeth, sloths are astonishingly strong. Due to their specialized muscle structure, their muscles are pound for pound stronger than a human’s. Despite their small size, sloths are 3x stronger than the average person. Meaning that if you are up against an angry sloth who wants to bite you, chances are the sloth will be the winner of that wrestling match.

When they reach independence (at the age of about 18 months), even the most gentle of hand-reared sloths just do not want to be handled any longer. We suspect that many people are going to learn this the hard way and will find themselves with an expensive, hard-to-handle sloth that could live for up to 50+ years.

4. Appearances can be deceiving

Unlike many animals, sloths do not show obvious external signs of stress. Their natural response to fear or danger is to hold still, and as a result, it is difficult to tell when a sloth is scared or stressed. A pet sloth may look perfectly happy to us – but the reality is probably very different.

We have absolutely no doubt that the sloth photo shoot with the baby was staged with the sole purpose of creating a viral hit. But aside from our concerns for the safety of the baby, we are worried about the negative repercussions these images will have for sloths in general.

Whether this was intentional or not, the tone of the story effectively glamorizes the concept of owning a pet sloth. From what we have seen, the standard response to the images seems to be: “I want one”! And that is where the problems begin.

Blessed (and cursed) with a perpetual smile it is hard to tell how a sloth is feeling simply by looking at them./Photo by Suzi Eszterhas

5. The sloth pet trade threatens wild sloth populations

The sad reality is, sloths that are sold as pets usually come from the wild. Even if the baby sloth was born in the US, it’s more than likely that the parents were originally taken from the wild. After a pregnancy longer than a human’s (11 months) sloths give birth to only one baby at a time. In the wild, baby sloths usually spend a full year with their mothers before reaching independence.

This means that the sloths currently being held in captivity in the US cannot physically produce enough babies to meet the ever-increasing demand from people wanting pet sloths.

So every year, hundreds of sloths are removed from the wild and shipped to the US from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador where export laws are slack. These individuals are then forced to breed and the babies are sold into the pet trade at eye-watering prices. As a consequence of the pet trade demand, sloth numbers are crashing rapidly in the wild.

For an animal that is an expert at maintaining a low-profile, it is remarkable how quickly they have risen to fame. Sloths can be found in department stores, on mugs and slippers, on children’s t-shirts, on Amazon and our social media feeds. They are quickly becoming many children’s favorite animals, joining the ranks of lions, pandas, and penguins.

Check out our sloth-themed items in our sloth shop – all proceeds help real sloths in the wild!

But with their increased popularity, sloths are also finding themselves in places where they do not belong – in yoga studios, swimming pools, and private homes.

So if you are considering having a sloth as a pet before you do so, here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions:

So can you have a sloth as a pet? Can you own a sloth? Is it legal to own a sloth?

The short answer is, in some places, yes. The laws governing whether it is legal to own a wild animal, like a sloth, vary from place to place. However, if you considering getting a sloth as a pet (perhaps because you love them and want one in your life) – we strongly urge you to seek an alternative way to express your love for these amazing animals. You could volunteer at a reputable rescue center that works with injured and orphaned sloths or you could symbolically adopt a sloth for yourself!

There are so many ways to show your love for sloths (aside from having one as a pet) – check out our projects for more ways to get involved!

Are sloths friendly? Are sloths dangerous to humans?

To put it bluntly, sloths are not friendly (not in the way you’d expect from a puppy or a kitten). As much as we love sloths here at SloCo, we maintain a long-distance relationship with them. Because they are wild animals, sloths do not crave or seek out human contact (even hand-raised ones once they have reached maturity). So unfortunately no matter how much love you plan on showering on your pet sloth, they will simply not reciprocate.

Furthermore, sloths can be quite dangerous to humans – inflicting deep puncture wounds and even permanent nerve damage. Our Ecology Coordinator, Amelia can tell you firsthand!

A happy sloth is a wild sloth – the best place for them is in their jungle home!/Photo by Suzi Eszterhas

If you have any questions about having a sloth as a pet or would like to speak to an expert about the topics we have discussed here, please email us at contact@slothconservation.org.