Sloth versus Cheetah

Sloth versus Cheetah

Ready! Get set! Go….odbye!

It’s a good thing this isn’t a race, because if it were, it wouldn’t be much of a contest between the slowest mammal and the fastest; after all, the sloth is outpaced by some species of plants, whereas the cheetah travels at speeds only matched by humans on the freeway.


In fact, if they were vehicles, cheetahs would be the muscle cars of the animal world, whereas sloths would be kind of like those floating innertubes that go around Lazy Rivers at theme parks.

If not speed, then do these two animals have anything at all in common?


Are sloths and cheetahs related?

Cheetahs are members of the family Felidae, most closely related to jaguarundis and cougars and somewhat more distantly related to the common house cat. Sloths and cheetahs last shared an ancestor about 90 to 100 million years ago, before Tyranosaurus Rex first terrorized the Earth.




Both are in the mammalian infraclass Placentalia (an infraclass is in between a class—mammalia—and a clade—Boreoeutheria, for the cheetah, and Atlantogenata, for the sloths), but other than that they aren’t very close. Sloths are an old species, having been around for some 30+ million years, whereas cheetahs are comparatively young species at only about 3 to 3.5 million years old.


Savannahs and Jungles

Sloths and cheetahs live on completely different halves of the world: in fact, that’s what the two names of the clades Boreoeutheria and Atlantogenata refer to. Sloths like to live in tall trees of the Central and South American jungles, whereas cheetahs like to live in savannahs, mountains, and valleys of Africa and Iran with thin vegetation. It turns out when you can go from 0 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, trees become obstacles very quickly. Sloths, on the other hand, go from 0 to 60 in approximately never and are therefore better adapted to the forest.


Cheetah mother w 4.5 month old cubs on a termite mound, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. / Brown-throated sloth in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Are they social animals?

Cheetahs were once thought to be solitary animals, much like sloths, but recent observations have revealed that cheetahs actually have a rather complex social structure. Sometimes cheetahs will be loners, but males frequently associate in groups called “coalitions”, usually but not always consisting of siblings.


Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia.


Females live with their current litter of kittens and will often be friendly with their daughters, sisters and mothers. Sloths will peacefully share the same tree with other sloths, but almost never interact with each other outside of mother-child pairs and very brief mating encounters.

Do sloths sleep more than cheetahs?

Cheetahs may move faster than sloths, but they make up for it by sleeping more! Cheetahs spend most of their day resting (when they aren’t setting land speed records, that is), and about 12 hours out of every day is dedicated to snoozing.



This is still better than the common house cat, who sleeps up to 16 hours a day, but much lazier than that sloth, who sleeps only 8 to 10 hours out of 24.



What do they eat?

Like all cats, cheetahs are carnivores. They eat small to medium sized prey, mostly ungulates (hooved mammals), but will occasionally eat rabbits, livestock, and melons. Scientists think the melons are eaten for their water content, which can be scarce in some of the more arid areas of the cheetah’s habitat.



Sloths only eat melons in captivity, and they probably aren’t good for them. One dietary preference that sloths and cheetahs have in common is that neither one eats humans! The cheetahs probably could if they wanted to, but happily for us, they just want to be left alone.

How do scientists study cheetahs and sloths?

Humans have long admired the sleek, speedy cheetah, and historical records of them go back for millennia. In fact, the most difficult thing about the history of the cheetah is human’s annoying habit of referring to all big cats with a few interchangeable names: basically every cat that doesn’t wear a collar and go by Mrs. Tiddles has been called, at some point, a “leopard”, making specific details hard to discern.


Cheetahs at Masai Mara Conservancy, Kenya. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas


Scientists who study cheetahs are challenged by the large territories occupied by the big cats, which are up to 7,063 km2 (2,727 sq mi)! However, cheetahs are much less cryptic than sloths—just look for the only thing on the savannah streaking by at up to 128 km/h (80 mph)—and cheetahs have benefited from a very good PR campaign since the 1970s, though they are still killed for their fur and interactions with livestock in much of Africa. Sloths, on the other hand, have only recently come to the interest of scientists, social media, and the general public.



What problems do they face and what is their conservation status?

As with so many wild animals, both sloths and cheetahs face a lot of difficulties with habitat loss. Wild creatures need wild spaces, and you don’t get much more wild than either sloths or cheetahs! Habitat fragmentation is a particular problem for both animals, leading to dangerous levels of inbreeding.



Unlike sloths, cheetahs are social enough to tame, though they don’t do very well in captivity. Specifically, cheetahs rarely mate in captivity, and their kittens have a very high mortality rate—which is probably the reason they have never been fully domesticated. Both animals suffer from illegal trafficking and the pet trade, though public campaigns have reduced this considerably for cheetahs in recent decades.

The IUCN lists cheetahs as “vulnerable”, whereas the Endangered Species Act goes one step further and lists them as “endangered”. Most sloth species are listed (probably incorrectly) as “least concern”, though both cheetahs and sloths have species that are critically endangered. The pygmy sloth falls into this category, and the Asiatic cheetah has only 12 individuals left in the wild.

What can we do to help cheetahs and sloths?

Sloths and cheetahs are both resilient, adaptable animals that can thrive if only given the chance to do so! The African Wildlife Foundation and the Cheetah Conservation Fund are two organizations working with these amazing cats, and of course, your friends here at SloCo dedicate our days to saving sloths. The most important thing YOU can do is to support organizations that keep the wilderness intact, promote scientific initiatives that find peaceful compromises between humans and wildlife, and of course, never buy or handle wildlife that was never meant to be a pet.

No matter whether you identify with the speed and agility of the cheetah or the Pura Vida relaxation of the sloth, we have so much to learn from our fellow animals, and our world is always enriched by the amazing diversity that life brings us!

Sloth Versus Jaguar

Sloth Versus Jaguar

The humble sloth vs the mighty jaguar, how do these two mysterious mammals compare?

Before we start, this is not one of those “versus” blogs where we speculate about who would win in a violent, face-to-face, no-holds-barred, single combat style hot dog eating contest, because, really, we can all guess how that would go.

Sloths don’t eat hot dogs, and jaguars follow a strict gluten-free diet, and everyone knows it’s cheating to skip the buns. Plus, the jaguar’s ability to deliver a killing bite straight through the cranium of disapproving officials tends to skew the judging a bit.


So do the tropic’s cutest vegan and obligate carnivore have anything in common? 

It turns out they do. For starters, they are both native to the Americas. The jaguar came over the Bearing Strait land bridge some 130,000 years ago and migrated south, where they met the sloth coming north out of South America (the sloth was here first, for the record. By about 60 million years). Both animals really like tropical forests, though the jaguar has a bit more tolerance for cooler, dryer climates.


sloth versus jaguar


Another thing that sloths and jaguars might get together to complain about (besides the inherent unfairness of hot dog eating contests) would be how lonely it can feel to be misunderstood.

Humans sometimes think sloths are lazy, diseased, or barely struggling to survive, instead of appreciating that they are really highly efficient, healthy, have great symbiotic algae and bacteria, and have been doing this all longer than most mammals have even existed.

The jaguar might commiserate with how often they are seen as ruthless, man-eating killing machines. In fact, jaguars are the least likely of all the big cats to attack humans, and about 1000 times less likely to trip up their pet humans while going down the stairs than the harmless-looking house cat.


jaguar resting
Fishermen watching jaguar resting on riverbank, Cuiaba River, Brazil / Photo: Suzi Eszterhas


Jaguars and sloths both like trees far more than they like humans, who have this annoying habit of cutting down all the trees, and both animals like to swim. The sloth actually moves faster in the water than in the forest, and the jaguar is known for hunting in rivers.


jaguar swimming
Jaguar crossing river / Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Very strong bites

Both the sloth and jaguar have surprisingly strong bites. Did we mention the skull-crushing ability of the jaguar yet? They are the only feline to kill their prey in this way, and it turns out to be a devastatingly effective way to both dispatch their dinner and intimidate the heck out of the rest of the animal kingdom. Apex predator, indeed!

Sloths don’t need to dispatch anything faster or tougher than a leaf, but they have some very sharp caniniforms in their mouth for doing so. Caniniforms–for everyone out there who isn’t a biologist or a really big tooth nerd–are like canines, but we can’t call them that because Xenarthrans have weird teeth, and we don’t want to get our dentition confused. 

sloth and jaguar bite teeth

Size does matter

For all their similarities, sloths and jaguars do have a few small differences. For example, the jaguar is the biggest cat in the Americas (and the third biggest in the world), weighing in at up to 96 kg (over 200 lbs), whereas the biggest sloths are long extinct. Today’s sloths can weigh up to 11 kg (24 lbs), but loose up to a third of that weight when they go the bathroom.


A small number of cousins

There are six living species of sloths. Four of them belong to the genus Bradipus — three-fingered sloths–brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus), pygmy sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), pale throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus), and maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus). The remaining two belong to the genus Choloepus–the two-fingered sloths–hoffmann’s two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) and linnaeus’s two-fingered sloth (Choloepus didactylus). All of them live in the Americas.

distribution map of sloths

Jaguars belong to the genus Panthera of which there are only five species: jaguars (Panthera onca), lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), leopards (Panthera pardus),  and the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). These big cats live on every continent in the world except Antarctica. 

How do scientists study them? 

Jaguars have been studied in the wild since the late 1970’s, whereas sloths have only really been studied in the wild in the last 12 years. Compared with other cat species, jaguars are still relatively unknown cats.

jaguar collar
Female with a GPS collar at Esteros del Iberá Wetlands, Argentina / Image Tompkins Conservation

Both sloths and jaguars like to hide from researchers, and to combat this, researchers try to tag jaguars with VHF (Very High Frequency) collars or GPS systems. Sloth researchers use VHF collars since GPS technology is not yet realiable to study sloths.


sloth with a radio tracking collar
The radio-tracking collar doesn´t affect the abilities of the sloths to survive in the wild.

Who lives longer?

The sloth also lives longer than the jaguar, with the oldest known sloths living almost 50 years (In captivity), whereas jaguars rarely live longer than 11 years in the wild, though captive individuals may double that.

The time left to these amazing species must not be measured in individual lifetimes but in generations. A human may live for a century, and we hope that our grandchildren’s grandchildren have the same opportunity to marvel at the majesty of these creatures as we do.

What are we doing to save jaguars?

There is a project in Esteros del Iberá Wetlands, Argentina–the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere–to reintroduce the jaguar. The jaguar is critically endangered in Argentina, with only 200 to 300 individuals left in the wild. Jaguars used to thrive in this area but were hunted to extinction in the last century. So far the project has reintroduced six Jaguars since its inception in 2015.



 -Ames Reeder

Urban Sloth Project Assistant


Know your Sloth Predators: The Mighty Jaguar

Know your Sloth Predators: The Mighty Jaguar

Known for their impressive hunting abilities, jaguars (Panthera onca) are both feared and revered. Weighing a hefty 56-96 kg (120-200+ lbs) they are the biggest felines living in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest cat species on Earth (after lions and tigers).

Boasting one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom, their name comes from the indigenous word “yaguareté” which means “true, fierce beast” or “he who kills with one leap.”

So what do jumping jaguars and stealthy sloths have in common?  They are more intertwined than first meets the eye.

Sloths and Jaguars

Like most apex predators, jaguars are also a keystone species, helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem by keeping herbivore populations in check. Jaguars are opportunistic hunters, and prey upon almost anything they can get their jaws on. To name a few, they eat capybaras, deer, tortoises, iguanas, armadillos, fish, birds, and monkeys.

They even have the ability to take down South America’s biggest mammal, the tapir, and catch an equally formidable predator, the caiman.

Unfortunately for sloths, they are also on the list. Sloths have evolved their stealthy habits to remain hidden from their main predators jaguars and harpy eagles, who rely on their sense of sight to find them. If discovered, the sloth’s remarkable grip strength helps them to survive an attack by avoiding being pulled from the trees by these powerful predators.

They are both threatened by habitat fragmentation

Like sloths, jaguars are particularly vulnerable to the effects of habitat fragmentation, especially on the grand-scale. Although, jaguars have been sighted as far north as the deserts of Arizona their range of six million square km (over 2,316,000 square miles) extends from northern Mexico through Central America into Northern Argentina.

historic current range of jaguar
Although jaguars are widespread, their total population is estimated to be only 173,000./Image:

Jaguars require large amounts of primary rainforest in order to survive. A study that monitored the activity of jaguars in Southern Mexico using GPS collars, determined that a female jaguar used at least 180 square km over the course of a year and a male jaguar had a home range of 430 square km. A healthy population of 500 jaguars could require anywhere from 153,250-192,400 square kilometres (approximately 60,000-75,000 square miles)!

The jaguar’s main stronghold is the Amazon basin, with half of the world’s population of jaguars living in Brazil. In South America, the historic range of the jaguar has been reduced by half and overall jaguar populations are decreasing.


jaguar corridor panthera mesoamerican
In addition to protecting large swaths of jaguar habitat, Panthera aims to connect these areas through preserving and restoring and biological corridors./Image: Panthera

Although protected areas are key to their survival, maintaining and restoring connectivity throughout their range is essential for the health of the species. Reknowned jaguar scientist Alan Rabinowitz (1953-2018), known for establishing the first jaguar preserve in Belize in 1986, was particularly concerned about this issue. In 2006, he co-founded Panthera to protect jaguars and other wild cat species across their ranges.

Since jaguars require such vast amounts of intact forest, they are also known as an umbrella species. Conserving jaguars benefits a variety of other species, including sloths.

They are both hunted

In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, one of the main threats to jaguars is poaching. Although sloths are protected in many places where they are found, they are still hunted. The endangered maned sloth in Brazil is particularly threatened by hunting.

Jaguars are victim to two main kinds of hunting: revenge killing and poaching to sell jaguar parts on the black market. Hunting jaguars out of revenge usually occurs after a jaguar has killed livestock. Fortunately, organizations such as Panthera, reduce conflict between jaguars and people by implementing a variety of anti-predator strategies, such as putting livestock in enclosures at night.

Surprisingly, the most sought after parts of the jaguar are their canines, which are used to make jewelry or traditional Chinese pseudo-medicine.

Sloth and Jaguar coats are designed for camouflage

Sloths and jaguars are both interested in staying camouflaged, although for opposite reasons! Sloth fur has specialized grooves along the shaft of each hair and microcracks which help to trap moisture and promote the growth of algae and fungi.

The algae and fungi growing on the sloth will eventually turn the sloth green, a perfect disguise for an animal that seeks to blend in with the canopy of a tropical rainforest.

Jaguars’ coats are also designed for camouflage. Like other spotted cats, their rosettes help them to camouflage and enable them to remain hidden while sneaking up on unsuspecting prey.

jaguar camouflage
The rosettes of the jaguar help them to blend into their surroundings./Image:


jaguar leopard difference
Although jaguars are sometimes mistaken for other big cats, such as leopards, their spot pattern is quite unique with small dots inside of their rosettes./Image: The Wildlife Diaries.

They both have unique mating calls

When a female three-fingered sloths is in heat, she will call out (in the key of D sharp) to let males in the vicinity know that she is ready to mate. Since sloths are not known for their speed, she can call out for several days before a male sloth finally reaches her.

Jaguars are among the four species of big cats that can roar. To communicate during the breeding season, both male and female jaguars will roar to each other, which sounds like the sawing of wood.

They both have impressive teeth

Although their diets differ quite a bit, both two-fingered sloths and jaguars sport some pretty intimidating teeth.

Despite their peaceful reputation, two-fingered sloths have remarkably sharp teeth. Their teeth are also constantly growing, meaning that their upper teeth rub against their bottom ones in a way that grinds them down and sharpens them. Although their sharp teeth are not used to tear meat, they are useful for biting through tough leaves with ease.

sloth teeth canines two-fingered
This is why you don’t want to get too close to a two-fingered sloth/Image:

Jaguars have the strongest bite force of any big cat relative to their size.  Powerful jaw muscles paired with a shorter jaw enables the jaguar the leverage and the strength to pierce the skull of their prey.  The jaguar’s remarkable jaw strength and impressive canines allows them to bite through even the tough skin of caimans.

They are both great swimmers

Jaguars are one of the few cats that willingly go into water. Since they live in tropical rainforests, they need to be able to cross bodies of water in order to access all the parts of their habitat. The jaguar’s excellent swimming skills allow them to navigate rivers and prey upon the animals that live in them.


Sloths are also surprisingly good swimmers. Their stomachs, which are often full of fermenting gases, help them to float as they swim across open bodies of water. Male pygmy three-fingered sloths (Bradypus pygmaeus) will swim to follow the mating call of a female sloth.

They are the stuff of legends

Due to their elusive natures, sloths and jaguars are hard to study in the wild. GPS collars and well-placed camera traps have given us a glimpse into the lives of these fascinating creatures but myths still abound about both of them.

There is still so much we don’t know about sloths. Because of their curious attributes, a variety of myths have emerged about them. There was even a Greek God of slothliness.

Jaguars were revered by many ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Associated with light and dark, the jaguar’s duality was worshiped by many ancient civilizations. The Mayans believed that their keen night vision enabled them to move between worlds, and they were associated with death and the Underworld.

black jaguar cub melanistic
“Black panthers” are not a separate species but the result of extra melanin in the coats of jaguars and leopards./Image:

In order to effectively conserve jaguars and sloths, we must come to understand them. Scientists and concerned citizens continue to shed light on the behavior and habitat requirements of sloths and jaguars, which is essential information for us in learning how to live peacefully alongside them.

But beyond our understanding, these curious creatures deserve to be appreciated for their unique qualities and protected as integral parts of tropical ecosystems.

-Katra Laidlaw