2022 | A year in review by Dr. Rebecca Cliffe
For SloCo, December is a time for reflection and review; we write our annual reports, study what went wrong, celebrate what went right, and continuously look for what we can improve. Overall 2022 has been a great year for us: we’ve achieved (and exceeded!) so many goals that our motto for the year has become “Dreams Really Do Come True”!
2022 was a record-breaking year for us and we are thrilled to celebrate the achievement of three of our long-held dreams: the acquisition of land for a protected primary forest reserve, the start of the Great Sloth Census, and the attainment of non-profit status under Costa Rican law.
We also reached some major milestones in our conservation efforts, have continued to oversee the growth of our local sloth-friendly communities, hosted the Second Annual International Sloth Festival to resounding success, and saw our founder and executive director Dr. Rebecca Cliffe honored with the very prestigious Future For Nature Award.
We recognize how important it is to learn from our mistakes and celebrate our achievements, and we are excited to share with you our 2022 recap.
Dreams do come true
Perhaps our most exciting development this year saw us taking our first steps towards creating a primary rainforest reserve where we will hopefully soon have our new SloCo headquarters! We work to protect wildlife at all stages of their interactions with humans, but by far the most satisfying outcome is when they don’t need rescuing at all.
This beautiful plot of land in the South Caribbean will be a safe wild space for sloths and so many other animals and will be an excellent showcase for how to protect and preserve wild spaces.
The Great Sloth Census
This year we launched our most ambitious project yet: the Great Sloth Census. This history-making endeavor will be the first-ever accurate method of counting wild sloth populations and measuring their movements and trends. To achieve this, we are partnering with Working Dogs for Conservation who have helped us to train the first ever sloth detection dog.
This special dog is leading us to the unique places where sloths leave their feces, and we will be able to use this to determine a whole array of fascinating things: including how many sloths live there and how healthy they are!
We are a legal non-profit association in Costa Rica
What’s the difference between an organization and an association? Quite a lot, according to the government of Costa Rica! Now that we have officially received our papers labeling us as an association under Costa Rican law, we are able to expand our services in a lot of exciting ways.
We can now fundraise with merchandise and tours, and apply for grants from the government that we previously did not qualify for. This is a huge step for helping integrate SloCo into the local communities!
Winning the Future For Nature Award
In May this year, I became one of the winners of the prestigious 2022 Future for Nature Award! Along with Tiasa Adhya of India, and Gabriel Massocato of Brazil, we proud leaders of the future of conservation work each received €50,000!
This funding enabled the beginnings of the Great Sloth Census project, and we are honored to join the ranks of the women and men recognized by the FFN award for their commitment to protecting wildlife.
Sloth Crossing Project
This year the Sloth Crossing Project reached an exciting milestone during the Second International Sloth Festival, held in October, when we put up our 200th sloth crossing bridge!
In April the team drove all the way over to the other side of the country on a five-day excursion to Ojochal and Uvita on the South Pacific Coast, where they installed eight bridges in Marino Ballena National Park.
We also worked with ICE long enough to put up 3 wildlife bridges over the main road, and another six over the powerlines in Playa Negra!
This is actually a much bigger undertaking than it sounds like. To install anything over a road in Costa Rica you need legal permission from multiple agencies, including the government and ICE. They have to approve the location and agree that a bridge is necessary.
They have to make sure that the trees being connected are hard-wood and strong enough to support the bridge, that the power lines won’t be affected, and that the design of the bridge is safe and there is no risk of it falling into the road. And finally, they have to turn the power off to an entire region while the bridge is installed! Getting all of this approved is a logistical challenge and SloCo has been working with the relevant agencies for several years for permission to move forward with this project.
Check out this map to see the locations of all our sloth crossings (and tree plantings!) since 2019.
Sloths, Kinkajous, and camera traps
In addition to simply installing the bridges, we also launched the Camera Trap Project to study what other animals use our Sloth Crossings. We will also be studying which crossings get used the most, and why. So far we have installed 13 cameras and are pleased to report some amazing footage of many different species!
Our favorite so far is an interaction between a mother and baby two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) and a kinkjou (Potos flavus). If you’d like to see more of the Sloth Crossing Project, check out this video made by Mongabay!
The Urban Sloth Project
The Urban Sloth Project has seen so much progress since our last yearly update, if you’re not caught up yet, read all about the beginnings of the USP, from 2020 to 2021, here!
We’ve added four new sloths to the USP: Luiza, Maracuya, Pumpkin, and Deborah, and retired two: Baguette and Nacho. Baguette didn’t really want to be tracked anyway, and Nacho, well, he isn’t wearing a collar anymore, but he’s still an honorary Urban Sloth! (If you miss Nacho, don’t worry, he’s still contributing the project and is still up for adoption!
Luna had some changes in her family life and territory, which she has seen through like a total champ, and we are always excited to track her and her neighbor Luiza.
Some great numbers:
- 19 total sloths monitored
- 15 adults
- 4 babies
- 11 three-fingered sloths
- 8 two-fingered sloths
- 37 pieces of jungle-resistant tech
- 13 backpacks
- 14 collars
- 7 antennas used
- 3 devices lost/stolen
- 12 sloth trackers
- +1,300 hours of tracking
- +21,200 data points manually recorded
- +3,8 billion data points collected by the backpack data loggers
A large and very exciting change to the USP has been our new sloth researcher, José Guzman, under whose leadership the Urban Sloth Project is poised to grow to new and greater heights. Welcome, José!
The next generation
In March of 2022 we started a collaboration with El Puente to launch the Kukula Kids’ Club, available to local children ages 6 to 12, and is specifically aimed at indigenous kids of the South Caribbean. The club has around 15 members already! Activities for the KKC include many educational activities such as Young Scientist for the Day, Snake identification courses, first aid, and programs about recycling.
The club also visits local bee farms, cacao farms, and wildlife rescue centers, and sometimes takes a day to go to the beach, which many children’s families are often too busy to do despite its close proximity. A particular highlight this year was the photography workshop with Girls Who Click, where each kid received their own camera and was able to showcase their own style and take pictures! Another exciting venture was the KKC participation in the local Wolaba Parade.
Our online Sloth School continues to be a huge hit, reaching out to +6500 students around the world for some virtual sloth education. Our most popular educational booklet, Slocky and Marley the Amazing Sloths, is now available in German! We already have copies in English, Spanish, and Japanese, but here at SloCo there’s no such thing as too many languages.
Last but not least, we also participated in Thinkaton Monge, a Costa Rican event, aimed primarily at young students, organized to promote innovative and creative technological solutions for biodiversity conservation. Such as, for example, an accurate estimate of the sloth population.
Community and responsible tourism
We have continued to work with local businesses to grow our Sloth Friendly Network accreditation and we are now up to 50 businesses this year! The purpose of the Sloth Friendly Network certification is to make human-wildlife coexistence possible by making our streets and properties safer for sloths and wildlife.
If you’re planning on visiting the South Caribbean of Costa Rica, check out our Ultimate Guide to Sloth Paradise to learn how to spot sloths in the wild, book the sloth-friendly accommodations, and make your journey responsible!
Welcome to Sloth Town, a visual journey by Suzi Eszterhas
Wildlife photographer and SloCo trustee Suzi Eszterhas did a shocking piece this year on the lives of sloths affected by urbanization. The article and corresponding photography did an amazing job of capturing the essence of what drives the importance of the Urban Sloth Project. Her photograph “Sloth Dilemma” was also on the top 10 Wildlife Photography of the Year.
Oh My Dog!
Our Oh My Dog project did not have as many events this year as we had hoped for, but we still managed to work with the local pet shelter Puerto Viejo Dogs to spay and neuter 120 dogs this year! Reducing the stray dog population in Puerto Viejo in safe and humane ways continues to be an important goal for us, and dog training lessons have lifelong impacts on the canines that participate in them.
It’s hard to believe that a tiny tree nursery in 2018 would become the growing reforestation project that it has, but this year we celebrated the planting of our 5000th tree!
We couldn’t have done it without a wonderful contribution from JetSloth, who partnered with us to plant 1000 trees! This is the sort of epic goal that keeps us, and our brave little saplings, reaching for the sky.
The 2nd International Sloth Festival!
The Second International Sloth Festival, hosted in 2022, was a huge success. No matter how many people we expect, even more always show up. This year we had visitors from Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Italy, and probably even more far-flung countries.
This sloth and conservation-themed festival had booths, vendors, photography exhibits, educational opportunities, real-life sloth tracking for people of all ages, jungle walks, and more. Puppies and trees were adopted, sloths were found, and lots and lots of sloth art were made.
Also in Slothtober (our name for the 10th month of the year, which is also the month of International Sloth Day!) we launched the Charity Streams Campaign, a collaboration of sloth enthusiasts, gamers, and streamers, where 20 streamers went live to log 300 hours and help fundraise $4000 for sloth education and conservation!
Slothtober always brings together the sloth community from all over the world. From tiny towns in Asia to big cities in Europe (and vice versa), from jungles to mountaintops, and from Central America to Australia, we all celebrate this spectacular sloth community that we have built together. This map here shows exactly how far and wide the reach of this community goes!
What went wrong
On the list of projects that we maintained but didn’t expand, the Oh My Dog project lagged behind our growth estimates this year: we were not able to put together our community spay and neuter clinics or host the dog training lessons we wanted.
Our project to insulate power lines and transformers is still on pause–for reasons beyond our control–as ICE, the power company, is still undergoing an internal overhaul and cannot coordinate with us to safely and legally supervise the insulations. It’s quite frustrating to be kept waiting on bureaucratic matters while sloths continue to be electrocuted.
Team Sloth also had a challenging year in terms of health. Just as we thought the pandemic was slowing down, we were hit with two major covid waves and an outbreak of dengue fever. The entire office had to be closed down for a total of seven weeks out of this year, with nearly the whole team off work either sick or quarantined. Needless to say, this caused a few delays for most of our projects!
On the sloth front, our lovely Deborah suffered some eye trouble and almost went blind from dust exposure on the road, and Maracuya had her equipment taken off her, and a stumbling block that caught Team Sloth completely unprepared this year was the repeated targeting of Nacho for sloth tech theft. We eventually had to retire him from active data collection for his own safety, and we never were able to retrieve his collar or backpack. Happily, this is not the end of Nacho’s story and if you learn more about his journey, read this blog here!
Speaking of staying safe, the Tracking Team was robbed while out looking for Luna and Luiza. This was quite scary, though the team stayed smart and came through this experience unhurt.
2023, we’re waiting for you!
2022 was a great year for us, and 2023 is going to be even better. The Sloth Conservation Foundation is well poised to improve and expand on our current projects!
Most excitingly, we will be continuing the Great Sloth Census, a history-making project that will revolutionize our understanding of wild sloth ecology and give us the tools we need to truly measure sloth conservation and create a future for these amazing animals. There will be new science, and sloth detection dogs, and thermal drones!
You, our incredible supporters, have been with us this far, and we are so grateful to have you along. You are the fuel that keeps these critical projects alive, and your support is the difference in the lives of so many animals! Without you, there is no sloth science, no reforestation, and no extracurricular education for future generations. Without you, there is no SloCo!
We will have our full 2022 annual report ready soon, and when we do we’ll have our annual report ready–with more details of our projects and finances–so you know exactly how your money is being spent.
Stay with us as we head into 2023. We wish you a happy end of this year, and a new one full of joy, bliss, and sloths!
All the best from the jungle,
Dr. Rebecca Cliffe
Founder and Executive Director