The Urban Sloth Project Recap – Part II | 2022

The Urban Sloth Project Recap – Part II | 2022

The Urban Sloth Project is a research aiming to study how habitat disturbance in urbanized areas of the South Caribbean of Costa Rica is affecting the behavior and ecology of wild sloths. The project is entering its 4th year, and surely, monitoring sloths is never a boring task.

sloth dilemma dog facing sloth
Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

We already made a recap for the first 13 months of the USP, covering from November 2020 to December 2021. We recommend you to give it a look at Part I before reading this one!

 

January: Falling trees, falling sick, and falling in love with Celeste

 

The USP got off to a rocky start in January of 2022, beginning with sloth tracker Sarah almost getting squished by a falling tree while out tracking Baguette through Heck Swamp. This was back when Baguette was largely unfindable, and we weren’t sure if it was the equipment or the sloth. Later that month we got a new radio receiver, which at least answered that question (Baguette was just a master of disguise), and we were able to track our other Urban Sloths much more effectively!

 

Amelia and Dayber at Heck Swamp searching for Baguette.

 

Covid swept through the Tracking Team in January, laying low our heroic sloth spotters for a few weeks, and unfortunately, they weren’t the only thing that felled: some major deforestation in Luna’s territory the previous December has us really worried, but we and some other conservation organizations came together to fence off the area again, and hopefully prevent it from being used as a parking lot. This will help trees get established, and make it safer for the animals when they have to come down.

For all of the difficulties though, there are always bright spots, and the sickness and danger seemed worth every moment when we spotted Luna with her new baby Celeste! Celeste was only a few days old when Sarah found the duo crawling across the wreckage of trees in their territory, but they eventually made it up to the safety of the canopy to launch 2022 in style.

 

recap
Luna and her baby Celeste

 

February: Luiza, the new neighbor for Luna and Celeste

 

We added Luiza, a three-fingered female sloth, to the USP in February after spotting her on the ground in exactly the same area where we had first found Luna and Sol. Both sloths live at opposite ends of the same stretch of forest.

 

Luiza and her backpack. Photo Luis André Barroso

 

Luiza lives next to (and sometimes on) the beautiful Cocles Bluff, Bouncer Of All Radio Signals, which is an oasis of nature just outside of the busy town. You can almost forget you’re a stone’s-throw away from a busy main road.

 

amelia cocles bluff
Amelia tracking at Cocles Bluff

February also saw Croissant disappear deep into Arse End Swamp, and Mango get over her fear of heights and climb up into the canopy like a proper sloth.

 

March: Loving tropical fruits and Nachos

 

Mango has always been a favorite of the USP, partially due to her proximity to SloCo headquarters, so when we got an opportunity to add another nearby sloth we were so excited! Maracuya, a three-fingered sloth, joined the USP in March when the Tracking Team were out looking for Mango. At the base of one of Mango’s favorite trees was a little sloth, nearly identical to Mango, laying under a tangle of vines that had become detached from the trunk. Maracuya and Mango quickly got dubbed the Fruit Twins and were tracked back to back for the duration of Maracuya’s time in the project.

 

Mango (left) and Maracuya (right)

 

Nacho, the adventurous two-fingered sloth who was always spotted in bars and restaurants in town, was one of the most interesting sloths we monitored during the months he was part of the project, but after a backpack and a collar were stolen, we decided to remove him from the project.

Nacho was always surprising us with the places we found him in.

April: Baguettes, backpacks, and babies

 

The highlight of April was the epic Hunt for Baguette, in which the entire SloCo team spent days wading through the stink and dangers of Heck Swamp to find our most mysterious sloth and get her backpack off once and for all.

 

Arse End Swamp is literally in the middle of Puerto Viejo town.

 

With the addition of Dayber and Fran, who are usually busy planting trees and connecting canopies, Baguette was finally found, caught, uncollared, and discovered to have given birth to a baby while hiding from us! We were the proudest not-really-godparents ever, and managed to relieve Baguette of her backpack.

 

Baguette with her baby

 

The Tracking Team took some volunteers into Mango’s territory in April for a bit of a treat and some sloth education, and besides Mango, they discovered a very angry beehive. Amelia took some stings for the team and most of the volunteers got away without further incident.

 

May: Tech upgrades for the twins

 

May saw a change of tech for Mango, upgrading from a collar to a backpack. We felt, when we first found her, that Mango was a little too small for a Daily Diary Logger (otherwise known as a Sloth Backpack) and telemetry tag, but now she’s all decked-out in tech.

Our incredible sloth backpacks have taught us so much about sloth ecology that we barely guessed at before, and quite a few things that we never would have guessed in a million years!

 

Baguette with a backpack

 

Mango was very cooperative for her backpacking, and her neighbor Maracuya crossed over to the other side of the road to explore some new territory there. Thankfully for our tracker–and for Maracuya–she quickly returned to the original side of the road, as her new spot featured a guard dog who took his job very seriously. If we’d had a backpack on Maracuya, we might have known exactly how she accomplished this, but alas we only have so many backpacks, and they must be deployed sparingly.

June: Close encounters with snakes and sloths

 

We got our wish for more sloths in backpacks in June, when we changed out Mango’s backpack AND got one on Maracuya after all!

 

Dr. Rebecca Cliffe and our volunteer Haley with Mango.

 

Two months of back-to-back backpacks on Mango was very exciting, and we were thrilled to learn what Maracuya was up to when we weren’t watching.

 

Maracuya posing for his health check

 

Luna had some batteries in her collar running low, but cooperated very nicely with us to get her collar changed, and Luiza made a rarely observed descent to the ground. Amelia got a close encounter with a harmless vine snake while watching this, which nonetheless gave her a good reminder as to why we wear snake guards while tracking.

 

We can’t change the batteries in the collars as the units are completely sealed to make them waterproof. Once batteries have died we have to discard the collar and fit a new one.

July: Welcome, José and Deborah!

 

The most exciting thing to happen in July wasn’t for once a new sloth, but a new Urban Sloth Project lead! José joined the team in July and has been really showing his colors as he takes the USP to new heights. During his first month on the job he managed to spot the extremely elusive Croissant, thereby seriously impressing the rest of the Tracking Team, who had not had visual confirmation of her in a while.

 

jose
Meet José Pablo Guzman!

 

Besides a new sloth tracker, we also got a new sloth in July: Deborah. Like Mango and Maracuya, she is a young sloth that lives near HQ and makes tracking her a dream. Two-fingered sloths are generally more aggressive than their three-fingered counterparts, so Deborah was (unsurprisingly) uncooperative throughout the collaring process.

 

Sleepy Deborah

 

Deborah came out of anesthesia more quickly than anticipated and did her best to bite the researchers trying to take her measurements. Happily, she did not succeed in this and was quickly released back into her trees. Alan showed up for a brief cameo after a long absence but did not come down for us to retrieve his collar.

 

Deborah after her release

August: More tech theft

 

August was a frustrating month for the USP. Someone removed Maracuya’s collar, necessitating Team Sloth to borrow a metal detector to find it among the weeds bordering the beach near Mango’s territory. We believe that Maracuya was unharmed during this theft, but with no way to track her, we just have to take it on faith that our little fruit sloth came away from her encounter all right!

 

The precise cut indicates the use of a sharp element like a pair of scissors or another cutting implement.

 

Luiza got a change of tech in August, which was at least much easier to accomplish than finding Maracuya’s missing collar, as Luiza came low just as the signal from her collar started indicating that it needed a new battery. After a frustrating month, we were very thankful to Luiza for making one task a little easier.

 

September: Sloth moms

 

Luiza surprised everyone with a new baby in September, first spotted in photographs taken while tracking, and later confirmed in live sightings! Sloth babies are tiny and hide easily from our eyes up in the canopy, nestled into their mom’s tummy.

 

Can you spot the baby’s silhouette in this image?

 

At the end of the month, we also added a two-fingered mom and baby duo who we appropriately named Pumpkin and Pie. Despite Pumpkin being the largest two-fingered sloth in the project by a large margin, collaring her was a breeze. The addition of two two-fingered sloths was welcome, as most of our Urban Sloths are three-fingered.

 

 

At this point, four of five of our two-fingered Urban sloths had to be removed from the project for a variety of reasons. Additionally, three-fingered sloths are far easier to collar as they do not need to be anesthetized and the risk of blood-shed is far less, all of which skews the ratio of collared sloths to three-fingereds. September also kept the team busy with a new backpack for Deborah, and more data gathered from Mango.

Slothtober!

 

October got off to a rocky start with the electrocution of a two-fingered sloth in Pumpkin’s territory–initially, we feared it was her, but we can at least report that Pumpkin is fine. We keep a database of all electrocuted animals to report all incidents to the electrical company, ICE.

The rest of the month was super busy with the preparation and execution of the Second International Sloth Festival  and International Sloth Day on October 20th, and the crazy amount of effort that went into pulling off such a major event! It was all worth it though to see how many people turned out in support of our favorite animals, and how much we got to celebrate, learn, and teach.

 

sloth fest 2022
Our volunteer Faith using the telescope. Photo: Mira Meijer

 

Jose took many people for a quick jaunt over to Luna and Luiza’s territory to show them firsthand how sloth tracking is done. Luna acted as the ambassador to the event, hanging out in some very visible trees and giving some satisfying visuals to all our would-be sloth trackers!

 

José explains how the radio receiver we use to track sloths works. Photo: Mira Meijer.

November: The good news and the bad news

 

If October was busy, November was empty… of sloths, that is. Not all sloths, of course, but Arthur played hard to get, and some extensive tree trimming in Mango’s favorite uva cluster drove her deeper into her territory, though we are happy to say she has since been reclaiming what is left of her tree.

Little Pie heartbreakingly disappeared from Pumpkin, and Deborah nearly went blind from the dust of the road getting into her eyes. She ended up needing emergency treatment to save her sight, which SloCo was able to help her with.

 

deborah eyes dust
Deborah’s eyes

 

In better news, Luiza’s baby was happy and active for the month of November, often seen reaching out and taking an interest in the world around her mom. In November we also added Zeus, a two-fingered sloth!

 

Luiza and her baby. Photo José Guzman.

December: Improvements

 

December saw José saving some sloths from the road while off duty…though of course, you’re never really off duty when you’re on Team Sloth.

Luiza’s baby continues to thrive, Luna has been moving around her territory a lot, and sometimes she overlaps with her neighbor Luiza. They were once even spotted in the same tree together, though, since sloths are solitary, this probably had more to do with the tree leaves being very tasty this season.

Arthur is still high in the trees and we’re just waiting for him to be reachable so as to remove his collar. We want it back, Arthur!

 

After many months, José finally got a picture of Arthur!

 

In better news, Deborah has moved to higher branches in her trees, which is great news as it will likely protect her eyes from further dust attacks.

Finally, we have ordered more data loggers (backpacks), and hope to deploy them for a fresh start in 2023!

2022, what a year!

 

In conclusion, did we think the Urban Sloth Project would be this eventful? Not really! That’s the difficulty and the wonder of doing something completely new–the things you learn along the way. 2022 was a really eventful and successful year for the Urban Sloth project, and we can’t wait to see how all of our big plans for 2023 turn out!

rebecca cliffe backpack sloth

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2022 | A year in review by Dr. Rebecca Cliffe

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”!

 

sloth release
Releasing the sloth named Baguette after fitting her with a data logger backpack. | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

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.

 

jungle rainforest
A jungle hill with an ocean view in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

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.

 

Keysha tamara scat dog
Keysha and Tamara working in the rainforest. | Photo: Mira Meijer

 

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.

 

sloco team

 

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!

 

Future For Nature Award
Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, Tiasa Adhya, and Gabriel Massocato. | Photo: Future For Nature courtesy.

 

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.

 

ojochal marino ballena
We visited this amazing school @lifeprojecteducation and met all the children who go here.

 

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!

 

camera trap sloth kinkajou
Sloth mother with her baby staring at the kinkajou

 

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!

 

Dr rebecca cliffe with a sloth
Dr. Rebecca Cliffe measuring Baguette | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

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.

 

sloth on the ground with tourists
Two tourists keeping their distance from the sloth at a beach bar in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas.

 

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.

 

sloth with dog

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.

Connected Gardens

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.

Sloth Community

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!

 

Tamara and Diego. | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

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

 

The Urban Sloth Project Recap – Part I (November 2020 to December 2021)

The Urban Sloth Project Recap – Part I (November 2020 to December 2021)

 

In the South Caribbean of Costa Rica, it is pretty common to find sloths in unusual places: on a restaurant cutlery shelf, a hotel ladder, a fruit stand, clinging to a truck… you name it, sloths have been there. World-renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas came to the South Caribbean to take eye-opening photographs of the lives of these sloths in urbanized areas.

 

sloth between two buildings

 

The Urban Sloth Project

The Urban Sloth Project aims to study how habitat loss and disturbance in the form of urbanization affect the lives of sloths. How often must they come to the ground to change trees, rather than use canopy branches? How long does it take them to traverse the ground? Are they resting lower down than their counterparts living in optimal rainforest conditions?

If so, is this a behavioral factor, or are they forced lower because the trees are not as tall and mature? Must they change trees more frequently to find suitable leaves? And how much variation is there in their diet?

 

sloth on a powerline

 

These are just some of the questions we are aiming to answer through the Urban Sloth Project!

We had our USP timeline mapped out, but unexpected pitfalls, as well as some exciting opportunities, have meant that the old saying has proven itself true, once again – the best-laid plans of sloths and scientists go oft awry.

We would like to share our stories and experiences from the first year of the Urban Sloth Project: the sloths, the trackers, the tears, and the joy.

 

NOVEMBER 2020

First came Sharon 

Sharon was a small juvenile two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), and our very first Urban Sloth. We found her while out scouting for our first urban sloth, she was being harassed by dogs while trying to make her way to a Beach Almond tree (Terminalia catappa). Luckily, our team was there to keep her safe.  She helped us as we got our tracking legs underneath us and figured out how the USP was going to work!

 

sharon urban sloth
Sharon is the first sloth collared for the Urban Sloth Project. She was rescued on the side of a road while being harassed by a dog.

 

JANUARY 2021

Then came the Bradypus

Next, we collared the first of our three-fingered sloths (Bradypus variegatus): Alan, from the beautifully connected eco-hotel Kukula Lodge, and Croissant, whose original territory covered a road undergoing a huge amount of deforestation and construction.

 

sloths recap

Backpacks for everyone! 

Our next Urban Sloths were Cacao and Laurel: both Choloepus and both named after the trees they were found in, and made SloCo history as the first subjects for our famous sloths’ backpacks.

(The sloth backpacks, also called Daily Dairies, track millions of data points every minute as sloths move about the canopy; measuring when they climb, descend, stay still, how fast they move while doing so, and many other activities never before measured in wild sloths.)

Cacao’s territory was an aesthetically beautiful, well-manicured garden that unfortunately didn’t have much connectivity between the trees, forcing Cacao to cross on the ground every time he needed to change trees.

 

cacao sloth
Cacao, found in a cacao tree!

 

Laurel, meanwhile, took his backpack and disappeared onto private property inaccessible to the Tracking Team, where he stayed for nearly two months. The mature and well-connected property was full of tall Laurel de la India, also called Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), with one goliath Sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) in the center. This, as well as the abundance of other sloths in the area, made tracking Laurel difficult.

 

Laurel

 

The Tracking Team was therefore very excited when he returned to his original spot, and with some carefully placed feet on shoulders and a pair of scissors, we retrieved his backpack and un-volunteered him from the USP.

 

MARCH 2021

The first fatality 

In March we got a call from a local rescue center that Cacao had been admitted after being attacked by dogs. He survived his initial injuries, but did not survive the resulting secondary infections, and passed away in April, a month after the attack.

Luna and Sol 

Although we had lost our beloved Cacao, we were able to collar Luna and her baby Sol, who would go on to become some of our favorite sloths of the USP. A spontaneous addition to the project, Luna was crossing the main road of Puerto Viejo when she was found by Dr. Cliffe.

Sol was our very first baby of the project, and we were privileged enough to watch him grow and eventually gain his independence from Luna!

 

 

Houdini the Sloth, aka Sharon

Our first USP mystery – Sharon found her way out of her collar. This was unprecedented in sloth tracking, and we still have many questions that will likely never be answered.

 

 

Finding the intact collar on the ground caused great concern that Sharon had been attacked, and the worst-case scenario was that she was nearby, but injured and in pain. Our trackers searched for her, however, five days later she turned up in one of her favorite spots, sans collar, but totally unharmed.

 

APRIL 2021

Hello to our highest friend

Arthur--a regal adult three-fingered male living between a yoga retreat and some luxury rentals–joins the Urban Sloths as the first three-fingered sloth with a backpack, only to have them disappear high into some dense and well-connected canopy.

 

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Arthur the handsome.

 

MAY 2021

Deforestation 

Only a few months after relieving Laurel of his backpack, we were informed of a huge amount of deforestation in Laurel’s area. Devastatingly, Laurel’s entire territory, as well as many other trees along the road, had been cut down.

 

deforestation habitat loss
Dr. Rebecca Cliffe is next to what used to be Laurel’s trees. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

 

When Team Sloth went to investigate the damage, there were displaced sloths everywhere we looked. We were able to relocate some to more appropriate areas, and we could only hope that Laurel himself survived the destruction.

 

man walking a dog next to a sloth
This sloth and her baby were displaced sloths. With no trees, she remained in the hibiscus bush, exposed to dangers, like free-roaming dogs. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas.

These problems are a direct result of the exact issues we aim to address in the USP, and in spite of the heartbreak from witnessing this kind of deforestation, Team Sloth is more determined than ever to gather this important data on sloth behavior and ecology in urban environments-our ability to scientifically document these events is the only way to effect change.

Hello mango! 

Wildlife photographer Suzi Ezsterhas visited SloCo to document the plight of Urban Sloths. While searching for sloths to photograph, Team Sloth stumbled upon a small, wet ball of fur among fallen leaves and coconut husks along the beach path directly opposite SlotHQ. We bought the little three-fingered sloth in from the cold, where she huddled up to Jim, SloCo’s mascot, and promptly fell asleep.

 

baby sloth cute with teddy bear
Mango became a favorite instantly!

After dining out on some fresh baby guarumo leaves (Cecropia sp.) from our tree nursery, we took the opportunity to fit baby Mango with a tracking collar.

Next to Croissant… Baguette!

We came across a female three-fingered sloth clinging to the top of a fence: she was trying to escape a pack of barking dogs protecting their territory. Team Sloth fought through the pouring rain to rescue the sloth, but before releasing her we fit her with a collar and named her Baguette, since she was found on the same bakery road as little Croissant.

 

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We’d like the Nachos, please!

Welcome Nacho, one of the most remarkable sloths of the USP! Nacho was first fitted with his collar at a cantina on Cocles beach, and named after Team Sloth’s favorite dish there. Over the next couple of weeks, Nacho made his epic journey all the way from Cocles to downtown Puerto Viejo.

 

 

The Tracking Team followed him on his journey to some rather strange places for a sloth to hang out: isolated beach almond trees on the side of the road, the middle of a lively bar, and a restaurant … We soon began to refer to Nacho as out party sloth, for his proximity to human activities.

JUNE 2022

The second fatality

As we were waiting for an opportunity to recollar, we were faced with the second fatality of the USP in June of 2021. Sharon had been electrocuted while using an uninsulated powerline to move between trees.

We were devastated by Sharon’s death and vowed to renew our efforts to understand and help sloths adapt to human-impacted environments.

 

Farewell, Sharon

The traveler sloth

Nacho surprised us all by traveling over two kilometers in two weeks, a feat we had not previously known was possible for a sloth.

JULY 2021:

We recaught Mango to swap his backpack for a collar. Since he was so young and small when we first fitted him, we knew we’d have to check him often to make sure he didn’t outgrow it. We were pleased to find that he was healthy and growing just as expected.

 

AUGUST 2021

Croissant’s big move

Throughout late August 2021, we were having a lot of trouble tracking Croissant. The inconsistent signals from her VHF collar were proving difficult for our tracking team to triangulate.

 

 

It turns out that she had crossed a lengthy deforested gap by traversing fences and roads to an undeveloped piece of land near the center of town, around 500m away. Since her territory was in the process of undergoing a large amount of deforestation and disturbance, it makes sense that she would seek out greener pastures.

While this area is much more difficult for our team to track her in, it is a much more appropriate sloth habitat, and she has remained there ever since.

Nacho’s intervention

Nacho made it all the way to town this month and took shelter in a restaurant during a rainstorm. While it isn’t too unusual for urban sloths to wander into the local eateries, Nacho decided to climb around under the tables and try to bite the customer’s ankles.

 

 

Since this is bad for business, the restaurant owner called the local rescue center, who removed Nacho and called us. After a health check and monitoring period, Nacho was found to be fit and healthy, so we took the opportunity to swap his collar for a backpack!

 

 

He was then released into one of the only appropriate habitat spots in his home range; the dreaded swamp which Croissant had also moved to. Over the next few days Nacho crossed the street to one of Puerto Viejo’s liveliest beach bars. There were a few well-connected trees on the property, and Nacho seemed unconcerned by the constant stream of patrons and loud music.

SEPTEMBER 2021

Croissant health check

First collared as a young adult, we had some concerns that Croissant might eventually outgrow her collar. She had been difficult to find in her new home territory, but at the first opportunity, we gave her a health check and tech adjustment. We were pleased to find that although she had grown, her collar had not become too tight and still fit her well. Finding no adverse physiological effects of the tracking equipment was vital to the continuation of the USP!

 

 

The case of the missing tracking equipment / Bye. bye Nacho

Underneath Nacho’s favorite trees is the permanent camping spot of a man who is not our biggest fan, and took it upon himself to remove Nacho’s tech. He seemed unaware or uncaring that we knew he had Nacho’s backpack, and when we found and refitted Nacho with a collar, he removed that too.

 

Behind these palms was Nacho’s tech.

Team Sloth made the difficult decision to not recollar Nacho. We really liked having him in the USP, but we could not risk his well-being by making him a target for people who would handle him and steal our expensive equipment, and so we removed him from the project.

 

OCTOBER 2021

Good luck Sol!

During the month of October, the Tracking Team had noticed baby Sol going through his rebellious teenager phase: he wanted to be further away from his mum and venture out on his own. It started with three limbs rather than four clinging onto Luna’s fur, a set of claws gripping onto a vine instead. Then Sol was seen next to Luna, rather than on her. Then one day, he wasn’t with her at all! Luna gifted Sol a portion of her territory and little Sol was officially all grown up.

 

Luna without Sol

Always high in the canopy

Baguette remains our most difficult sloth to monitor, and we finally got a chance to retrieve Arthur’s backpack, allowing us to download millions of data points from the backpack (which are still being processed by specialized computers in the Swansea University lab) and confirm that the backpack design works great.

 

Arthur with his new collar.

 

NOVEMBER 2021

The case of the missing collar

One Friday while out tracking, we were receiving no signal at all from little Mango’s collar. While it was possible Mango had decided to move further afield, she would have had to have moved over 10km in less than 24hrs for the VHF signal to not reach the receiver! We know sloths can move faster than most people give them credit for, however this was very much beyond Mango’s capabilities.

 

 

We believe that as Mango’s favorite spots were low down, and often in plain sight if you knew where to look, someone walking along the beach saw little Mango and his little collar, and didn’t know what it was. Luckily, the next day some members of Team Sloth were enjoying a weekend at the beach when they noticed Mango sitting low on her favorite guarumo trunk and she was recollared with little fuss! Mango responded to this collar-napping by venturing across the beach path, and she has since doubled the size of her old territory.

DECEMBER 2021

Just before Christmas, Luna’s territory was being deforested, leaving a dozen sloths and countless other wildlife homeless. However, the community was not going to stand for this. Community members and local organizations, including SloCo, were able to temporarily halt the work and contact the authorities, who had the power to permanently stop the intended development.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part II !

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