At the end of last year, our tight-knit SloCo team scattered far and wide to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends. Some went to the other side of Costa Rica, some as far as countries such as Argentina, the UK, Germany, or the US.
We all love Puerto Viejo, but sometimes this little corner of the world feels very distant from everyone else. Working and living far from our loved ones is hard, and working in conservation is often no easy task.
News that the doomsday clock is set at 90 seconds to midnight can confirm our worst fears and leave us feeling one step behind–but to have hope and the will to be the change in the world, what we really need is love. Love for humanity, love for wildlife, love for the environment, love for knowledge. There’s no other way to fight for our world and all its living creatures without conviction and love.
Last but not least, we’re here to help you celebrate Valentine’s, Galentine’s, or Palentine’s! No matter your celebration, we have a great selection of sloth-themed gifts that A) you will love, B) help wild sloths, and C) also support our conservation initiatives!
Love your planet, love your sloths, and love your very favorite sloth conservationists, because we sure do love our supporters.
The best job I have ever had | Tracking Diaries #12
I have been working as a researcher for SloCo for only 7 months. The time has passed extremely fast, and still, I have learned incredible things that can only be taught in the field, working with people face to face and always improving my skills, not only my knowledge as a scientist but improving my second language which is English (people say I can speak good but I know I can get better at it).
December was kind of solitary, Faith (the volunteer that is currently helping the USP) went back to the UK to see her family and spend the holidays with them, meaning I had to track by myself for half of December. In the beginning was weird because I am used to having company while tracking, but then I thought it was a good idea to do something new or different this time, so I started to listen to a terror/horror podcast while tracking and it was the BEST idea, I really got into it and time passed incredibly fast at work.
I did finish tracking days on the 23rd because of the holidays, so I went to San Carlos (a place located in Costa Rica) to see my family. I love going to this place because I am able to take pictures of birds, frogs, and also sloths! In that land I have seen 3 sloths, one of them even had a baby (I had help from my family to symbolically name the sloths).
I was looking for snakes near the street and I saw a two-fingered sloth lost (not a single tree around, near ones were inside our land), and unfortunately, the road is a high speed and several cars use it. Thinking about what was the best option I opted to take the sloth on the property to avoid any road kill, put into practice everything I learned in my job, and grabbed it. I spent the rest of my time there inside the property, hoping nothing happened to it after I came back to Puerto Viejo.
I came back to work on January 2nd, still by myself and enjoying the podcast. I noticed more people than usual, assuming that the cause of it is New Year’s Eve and also several Costa Ricans have vacations on these days. Not tracking for a while got me out of practice so the first day was tiring but I catch up at the end of the week. A lot of cars in town, and also several people asking what am I doing with that big antenna did not lack, but that is a good opportunity to teach about the project. Important to add is that some days I had to track only by bike, which is kind of challenging and also fun!
Faith came back in the middle of January and, as always, was ready to help with the study. I had the opportunity to make 2 private tours about the USP, one for a big SloCo supporter and another one for some friends that wondered what exactly I have been doing since I left San José (the capital of Costa Rica where I used to live).
In general, this is the best job I have ever had! I cannot be happier with it. I love the place, I love the food, I love riding my bike, I love so much green around me, I love the sloths, I love that I can take pictures of wildlife, I love my teammates that since the beginning they were really friendly and help me with anything I needed.
I can’t wait for whatever 2023 is planning for me and SloCo but I hope are amazing projects (hopefully DNA studies is what I love as well!).
José Pablo Guzmán García Biologist Researcher, Urban Sloth Project
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
If you want to get these updates every month in real time, plus other virtual and exclusive goodies, jump in by joining our VIP community! Starting at $25/month, the VIP community helps us fund the USP, and is the first to know about big updates, receive exciting news, and see our best sloth pictures.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you would like to receive real-time, monthly updates from the Urban Sloth Project, featuring updates on all of our Urban Sloths, plus biographies, illustrations, and other exclusive materials, you can sign up for our VIP program!
As we put nearly half the year behind us (holy cow, where is 2022 going?) we have so much great news for you! May has kept us busy installing more Sloth Crossing Wildlife Bridges, saying goodbye to one of the sloths of the Urban Sloth Project, receiving important awards, and more!
Future for Nature winner
This month our founder and executive director Dr. Rebecca Cliffe traveled to Amsterdam to receive the Future for Nature Award of €50,000! (About $53,000 US.) For an entire week, she got to hang out with fellow conservationists from around the globe, environmental authorities, and other people fighting for the future of planet Earth. Check out this video with Dr. Rebecca’s presentation about our Sloth Scat Detection Dog and how we’re going to be putting this award to good use.
Inspiring the next generation
SloCo is also proud this month to have participated as advisors in the first Thinkaton Monge; a competition organized by one of the most important tech businesses in Costa Rica. The participants were university students who had to solve a given problem with a technological solution.
The problem this time was: the lack of data on sloth populations! The winners proposed sloth counting using thermosensitive cameras in drones mixed with a centralized national database. Wow. This would be a real game-changer for our favorite arboreal mammals. Congratulations to the winners Alejandra Merino and Ricardo Cascante for their ‘SlothFinder’ proposal!
Welcome to Sloth Town, a visual journey by Suzi
Just in case you’ve missed it, we published a shocking article written by wildlife photographer and SloCo trustee, Suzi Eszterhas, about the lives of the sloths living in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The article is illustrated with a selection of photographs taken during the week she spent here.
Can we make Sloth Town a safer place for sloths?
Our Sloth Friendly Network certification is an initiative looking to do exactly that: make human-wildlife coexistence possible by making our streets and gardens safer for animals. The accredited members of the SFN are businesses that have installed Sloth Crossing Wildlife Bridge, planted trees, trained their pets to not attack wildlife, educate their guests about responsible tourism, and supported community conservation in other ways.
Baguette was one of the sloths we were monitoring for the Urban Sloth Project, but alas, all good things come to an end—but it was a very cute, Happily Ever After kind of ending. After monitoring her for almost a year, we decided it was time to let Baguette go. Read her story, and all about why she is still one of the most difficult sloths to track!
Continuing with our commitment to bring you the very best, most up to date and most accurate information on all things sloth, we have for you our latest Slothopedia entry about sloth food. How long does it take a sloth to digest a leaf? Do they eat things besides leaves?
Bridges in the sky carry sloths to safety in Costa Rica
This month we also received a visit from a journalist hailing all the way from Mongabay who recorded some footage of our Sloth Crossing Project. Check the video below to learn more about how we generate safe connectivity for sloths in urban areas.
Thanks for sticking with us so far, and we will see you next month as we kick off summer in June!
Happy April everyone! We hope you survived any April Fools pranks from the beginning of the month, had a happy Easter with friends and family if you so celebrate, appreciated some jazz (what, you didn’t know it was Jazz Appreciation Month?), and ate some yummy food on National Empanada Day, which was April 8th. Because the only thing better than an empanada is a holiday devoted to them!
Here in Costa Rica, the defining holidays are Semana Santa, or Holy Week, when in addition to religious observances, every tourist in the whole country goes to the beach. Our tiny beach town was glutted with tourists (and their cars), which made it difficult to get anywhere. Sloth tracking was a challenge, but the Tracking Team rose to the challenge, sloths were tracked, and the holidays survived.
Speaking of sloths, we’ve had a bit of a change up with one of the Urban Sloth Project’s sloths, read on to find out who!
The Adventures of Nacho
Nacho has officially been released from the Urban Sloth Project. Although he was one of the most interesting sloths we monitored and we really enjoyed tracking him, we kept having problems with his equipment being stolen. Check out our blog here to read more of Nacho’s story and what we learned from him!
The Urban Sloth Project is a long-term study on how the urbanization of their environment affects sloths. We’re currently monitoring eight sloths, and you can get updates by joining our VIP community! We send out updates and pictures every month.
Our Sloth School Program, a local and online educational enrichment program focusing on sloths, has now reached 5,000 children! We offer sloth lessons via zoom, and if this sounds like something you or some children you know are interested in, please contact us.
Part of SloCo’s educational outreach program is the Kukula Club, where children can meet in person to learn about how sloths live and are studied in the wild. One of the most popular activities is learning about using radio frequency technology to track sloths.
To do this, we hide a stuffed sloth wearing a radio collar, and the kids get to find it using the portable antenna and radio receiver box. Future sloth scientists in the making!
Sloth Crossing Team Goes to the Pacific!
Our Bridge Team traveled to Ojochal and Uvita on the Pacific side of Costa Rica to install some wildlife bridges and managed to put up eight bridges in four days, including one at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. Go team! Special thanks to Reserva Playa Tortuga who helped us organize and coordinate this trip!
While we were there, SloCo also visited this amazing school Life Project Education at Ojochal and had a great time meeting all the amazing children who attend.
This school has bought the plot of land next door in order to save it from deforestation, and the students have started to reforest it. We built a sloth crossing bridge to help wildlife until the trees are big enough to create a natural canopy connection!
Our latest “versus” blog is out!
This time we have sloths vs red pandas! Can you think of any similarities between the two species? Check out the blog for some surprising comparisons. Support our friends from The Red Panda Network and their amazing work to protect these incredible animals!
Does this ancient cave art represent a giant ground sloth with its baby?
Beautiful cave paintings in Colombia have sparked some controversy, but we want to know what you think. Giant ground sloth? Abstract art? Proof of extraterrestrial life visiting planet Earth? Find out in our latest paleo sloths entry.
Read More: Prehistoric Rock Art Might be Early Representations of Giant Ground Sloths
This is not fine!
The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report has brought us some scary news that many of us were aware of, but can now confirm. Many impacts of global warming are now simply “irreversible” according to the UN’s latest assessment. If by 2025 global emissions haven’t dropped, we will all be facing catastrophic climate events.
This report has demonstrated the importance of demanding global environmental change from our leaders. We need governments and large corporations to move at a faster pace to impact positive global change rather, because the sloth pace we are currently going at isn’t working. Sloths can’t outrun climate change!
Big Wild Thought is an amazing company helping so many animals all around the world. Their clothing is of beautiful quality with delicately embroidered animals, and we love it. Head over to their page to check out their sloth attire, 10% of all proceeds will be donated to helping us help sloths!
Have you considered a monthly donation to your favorite conservation program? Monthly gifts help us ensure all our projects are funded and organize our budget more efficiently!
Thank you so much for tuning into this month’s newsletter, and we’ll see you again next month with more weird adventures from the jungle. Summer begins the nice, easy, slow season down here, and we are all looking forward to less traffic, beautiful weather (maybe), and taking lessons from the sloths about taking it easy. Cheers!
Nacho, a feisty Hoffmann’s two-fingered Sloth, joined the Urban Sloth Project in May 2021. Nacho was one of the most interesting sloths we monitored during the months he was part of the project.
He was always surprising us with the places we found him in, the distance he traveled, or the photos tourists and locals post on social media with him.
Almost as soon as he was collared, Nacho decided he needed a change of scenery, and made the two-week journey from Tasty Waves Cantina into the center of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where he has (mostly) remained. In this blog, we’ll recap the adventures of a sloth living in a busy tourist town, and what we learned from it.
Nacho’s first misadventure was when he was picked up by the local rescue center for relocation in July 2021 (3), after he was caught bothering the patrons of a restaurant (2), trying to bite their ankles like a little dog!
The only upside to this situation was that we were able to conduct a full health check on him and found that his weight in July was almost half a kilogram heavier than in May. This indicates that the collar he was wearing and our research on him had not affected his ability to thrive in his natural habitat.
Sometimes during this period he also gained a large scar between his eyes that he had not had when we first collared him.
We took this opportunity to fit Nacho with a micro-logger Daily Diary, a.k.a. tracking backpack, which would give us an in-depth view of his behavior and movements for 28 days, and provide invaluable data for the USP.
From the swamp in town to the beach bar
After we fitted him with the backpack we released him to a more appropriate spot in his territory near the swamp he had previously spent some time in (4). Nacho must have disagreed with the new spot though, and he decided to move somewhere a little more familiar: another bar (5).
After a nice wild goose chase through the month of May, Nacho found a home at Stanford’s (6). This made him a very enjoyable sloth to track (and made the Tracking Team a familiar sight in town), while we began to recognize his movements and patterns. It was very encouraging to watch Nacho thrive in spite of the ultra-urban environment that most sloths would avoid.
The bar he patronized had chosen to maintain the tree connectivity around their establishment—this is a great policy that makes for a nice atmosphere around the bar, as well as preventing erosion by anchoring the sand with the roots of the sea almond trees…which is important when your bar is located on the beach! Not to mention, it looks nice.
Spotting sloths in sea almond trees is easier than in many of the other trees sloths favor, as sea almonds’ branches are not usually cluttered with other plants and vines. They usually hold only almond leaves and the occasional sloth.
So when Nacho’s backpack signal went stationary (indicating that it had not moved in a while), and there was no sloth in the spot where the signal was coming from, we got worried.
The signal was coming from a tarpaulin tent, where a nomadic person had been living for many years.
Concern peaked on day four of the unchanging signal when the Tracking Team spotted a sloth who was around the same size and color as Nacho, snoozing in one of Nacho’s favorite spots, doing an excellent impersonation of Nacho in all ways – except he was missing a backpack. We had to find out if this sloth was really Nacho.
Luckily, we had one very defining future of Nacho’s identity: his scar.
Dr. Cliffe herself scaled the palm tree that potential-Nacho was napping in and was able to confirm that it was indeed Nacho resting in the tree—blissfully unaware of the drama occurring around him. It was very clear that this sloth did not have a backpack on, and the signal was still being emitted from the DIY Settlement.
Moving On Without a Backpack
While there was some relief that Nacho was not in fact being held hostage, we were presented with a new problem—equipment being stolen off the backs of the Urban Sloths.
The very expensive sloth backpack was useless to anyone other than us, held a month’s worth of important scientific data, and was now gone. Unfortunately, trying to communicate with the person who took the equipment proved futile and fruitless.
Team Sloth decided to recollar Nacho and performed a quick health check on him. Despite having an eventful month—visiting the rescue center, being fitted with some new tracking hardware, and apparently having been accosted by a man with scissors who stole his backpack—Nacho was doing as good as ever and had even gained some weight.
For the following months, Nacho remained in the area surrounding the bar and a hostel, finding shelter from the rain in a small lean-to structure. He had a high visibility rate in the months after his ordeal.
In January 2022 we got a case of déjà vu when his tracking signal (this time from a collar and not a backpack) once again was traced to the camp, and once again there was no sign of Nacho.
After a few days of stress and worry on the part of the Tracking Team, Nacho reappeared in exactly the same palm tree as the previous time he had been stolen from. Nacho’s collar was gone.
The End of an Era
It was a difficult decision for Team Sloth to retire Nacho from the USP. While the loss of time, money, and research data from the appropriated equipment was large, the deciding factor was Nacho’s welfare.
In order to fit two-fingered sloths with tracking equipment they must first be sedated, which is not a procedure that should be performed lightly in wild animals, as it can cause the animals a great deal of stress.
Recollaring Nacho would mean a third sedation in less than a year, and the equipment was making Nacho a target for unscrupulous humans. This was not something we could accept for the sake of our research, and we ultimately had to put Nacho’s welfare above all else.
We are happy to say that Nacho has handled his collarings (and de-collarings) with great aplomb and is thriving in his current territory! We are less happy to say that we have not yet gotten our stolen equipment back, but that’s not Nacho’s fault, after all.
We anticipate that without any wearable tech to make him a target for future interference, he will continue to be Puerto Viejo’s unofficial mascot, greeting tourists from his Sea Almonds on the beach, and embodying the spirit of Pura Vida.
What We Learned from Nacho
While there are many questions yet to be answered about Nacho’s lifestyle, and while we gathered valuable data while tracking him, we won’t be able to come to any conclusions about his activities until the end of this long project, when the data from all sloths is collated and analyzed. Not to mention, our treasure trove of data on his movements was never able to be analyzed before being stolen.
We are surprised at how well adapted Nacho is to his urban habitat. However two-fingered sloths are disproportionally likely to be admitted into rescue centers with injuries from dog attacks, car strikes, and electrocutions.
We don’t know what the future holds for a sloth that lives in a busy town, and although we don’t officially monitor him anymore, we still see Nacho as we run errands in town, and the staff at Stanford’s keeps an eye out for him.
“Oh look, barbed wire,” Becky says as she picks her way around the rusty tangle in front of her. “It’s my favorite.”
“Are you sure?” I ask. “We have a busted sewer pipe over here.”
“That’s my special favorite,” Becky assures me.
Deyber is eyeing a swarm of bees, Fran appears to be staring at the sun with a pair of binoculars, and we haven’t seen Amelia in a while; it’s possible the quicksand got her. Quick mud. Tar pit. Poo sinkhole… Whatever it’s called when the unmentionable muck beneath our feet finally succeeds in swallowing us whole.
We are, of course, in Heck Swamp, looking for Baguette.
Baguette is a three-fingered sloth that is scheduled for release from the Urban Sloth Project, but first, we have to catch her one last time to get her backpack off. Today our top priority is finding this lady, and to this end, we have pulled out the big guns—in the form of Deyber and Fran, who have some kind of sloth x-ray vision.
“I see one!” says Deyber, and I get so excited I try to run to where he is at, forgetting that There is No Running in Heck Swamp, and I almost go face first into the mud. When I get to where Deyber is standing, though, I can see no sloth.
“Where?” I ask.
“There. In the hole in the trees. By the leaves.”
“Oh! I see—” except I don’t see, because I am looking at a squirrel’s nest. You’d think a haphazard pile of very non-furry dead leaves would look less like a sloth, but sloths are the visual version of what chicken tastes like: everything looks like a sloth.
(I tried once to explain to one of my Spanish-speaking coworkers that sloths were The Chickens of the Forest because they look like what chicken would taste like if you could see flavors… but the joke did not translate, and I think all I did was convince him I was insane.)
Finally, I see what Deyber is talking about; a single sloth claw, 50 meters away, through about 12 trees. How the heck he spotted that I have no idea. I try to get closer for a better view, since we cannot ID Baguette from a single claw, and after 10 meters of mud I think I see a new sloth—but it is a large leaf. At 15 meters I for sure have found a new sloth, get excited and call Becky over, but it turns out to be a male sloth who is not wearing a backpack. Oops.
At 30 meters I am knee-deep in a substance I am choosing to believe is mud, because the alternative is to run screaming back to civilization and get a career studying something more predictable, like, say, potted plants. I am pondering whether or not my boot will ever come unstuck. Somewhere off to my right, Fran has discovered six more real sloths and twice as many sloth-shaped termite nests. I pull on my right foot. It does not budge, but my left foot sinks lower.
Becky has found a line of giant ants the size of my thumb. She declares them cute. I give a mighty heave of my stuck foot, because otherwise my new career is going to be “fossil”, and it finally comes free.
I at last make it to the tree where possibly-Baguette is hiding, where I catch sight of Amelia.
“Look!” she says, “I think I found her!”
I pull out my binoculars. The object in question is round, brown, and furry. “I don’t know. I think it’s a coconut.”
“Are you sure? I swear it moved.”
“I’m not saying it DIDN’T move, but check it out from this angle.”
Amelia squelches over. “Darn it. It’s either a coconut, or a two-fingered sloth. Hey Fran, do we have two-fingered sloths in Heck Swamp?”
“No. Only three-fingereds.”
“Oh hey!” I say, peering through my binos again. “I have a two-fingered right here! It’s curled up with a blanket. Inside a tree…”
The group agrees that this has to be seen to be believed and congregates around the tree with the mystery animal. I contend that it is a two-fingered sloth, Becky thinks kinkajou, Fran and Deyber are debating tayra, and Amelia thinks it might be a stuffed toy placed here as part of a very obscure joke.
While we are discussing this and trying to get pictures, the sloth that might be Baguette shifts slightly and curls up into the leaves, hiding her back from us for the rest of the afternoon, and the mystery animal sticks out its little pink tongue and licks its nose, thus ending the debate on the side of tayra (which have very identifiable tongues, I guess).
Oops, not a two-fingered sloth then!
As we squish our way out of the swamp later, I confide to Amelia that I cannot believe I misidentified not just the wrong species of sloth, but the wrong species of animal entirely.
“It’s okay,” she tells me. “You just got April Fooled.”
And, remembering the mocking pink tongue and the perpetually mysterious Baguette, I have to laugh, because I guess humans aren’t the only animals with a sense of humor.
We added Luna and Sol to the Urban Sloth Project in March 2021. Once Luna was fitted with a collar in March, we were able to track her and baby Sol every day. We estimated baby Sol to be around three or four months old at this time, but sloths are very difficult to age–we were unable to weigh Sol, which is usually the best way to guess a baby sloth’s age.
In August we began to see Sol becoming more curious about his surroundings; at first, it was only a limb or two reaching into the liana vines, but one day we came to track them, and we found him sitting next to Luna instead of on her belly!
He wasn’t quite ready to leave Luna entirely, and there was a lot of him going back and forth between his mama and the branches. We felt like proud parents watching little Sol gain his independence.
By October, we confirmed that baby Sol was all grown up! We had consistently seen him separate from his mother, until one day they were no longer sharing the same tree.
In most mammals, once the parents raise the young to independence, the young are expected to disperse and find their own territory. With sloths, once the baby is ready, the mother leaves them with a portion of her own territory and moves on herself.
We were able to witness this with Sol, to whom Luna left her very favorite tree, while she moved further south. Luna moved all the way to the other side of the lot they occupied, leaving the tree she raised her baby on to her grown-up boy. According to our calculations, Sol gained independence at 10 months old.
December: Sol is finally grown up
We still tracked Luna every day, but with no radio collar, it has been hard to find Sol! We have seen him around a few times in his little territory that borders his mother’s, but if he decided to make a big move we probably wouldn’t know about it. Luna has continued to thrive in the new, more southerly portion of her territory, which she shares with a number of other sloths.
One Saturday in mid-December, when the tracking team went out to find Luna, they instead found massive deforestation occurring, with chainsaws and bulldozers cutting down their trees. Happily, the community made a big protest about this, the tree felling was stopped, and has not resumed while the relevant authorities are looking into it.
We’ve been waiting for it ever since Sol moved on to find his own territory, and the day has finally arrived: Luna has a new baby! Baby Celeste was born in the last week of January (2022), and is sooo tiny!
Luna probably went into heat and conceived shortly after Sol started independently exploring in August. Although we are not precisely sure of the gestation period of three-fingered sloths, we estimate it is approximately six months. Researchers have not yet had the opportunity to observe a three-fingered sloth during the entirety of her pregnancy, so this gestation period is still being determined.
Or it would be if they’d stop cutting down the trees. Several three-fingered mothers are known to inhabit the area. Thus when Sarah stopped by Luna’s territory while covering a shift for Ames (who was quarantined with Covid) she did not immediately recognize the mama sloth with a days-old baby velcroed to her side as our lady Luna.
Since the area’s deforestation in December it’s not unusual to find crowds of tourists gathered around the lone guarumo trees, watching and snapping pictures of the half dozen three-fingered sloths that can be seen on any given day. When the crowds are looking up, we know everything is in order and the Sloth Star of the Day is high in the trees and safe. When the crowds are looking down at the ground, we know there is most likely a sloth trying to get somewhere, and it’s time to intervene. The intervention consists of politely explaining to people that the sloths are not here to meet them and asking the tourists to give them a little space so the sloths can get where they are going.
This is what was happening on a Friday when Sarah spotted a crowd and went to see whether the sloth needed an advocate or not. The sloth in question was crawling across an obstacle course of felled trees and organic debris, trying to get from one tree island to the next.
At first, Sarah was quite confident that no, this was not Luna–because look at that tiny baby!–but once she pulled out her own phone camera she was able to zoom in and see the antenna of Luna’s tracking collar. Our favorite mom was a mother all over again.
Sarah got some great footage to use as evidencethat reforesting and bridge-building in this part of the maritime zone needs to be made a priority, because who can resist helping out baby sloths?
At least now we know why Luna disappeared on us for a few days; clearly, she just wanted some peace and quiet to deliver her new daughter, currently weighing in at around 300 g. That’s about 10 oz, or about two average-sized smartphones. (For the record, we don’t actually know that the baby is a girl. Right now we’re guessing, and we figured since we called her last baby a boy we needed to even up the gender ratio a bit.)
Though he won’t contribute much to raising little Celeste, we think we know who the father is, as there is only one mature male in Luna’s territory. We don’t have a name for him, but maybe his newest daughter will grow up to look like him!
The sex of the babies will remain a mystery for some time as all genitalia are hidden internally in three-fingered sloths. The best and least invasive way to determine male from female is to look out for the brightly colored speculum that develops on all male Bradypus sloths (with the exception of the maned sloths). Unfortunately, the speculum does not develop until sexual maturity (at approximately two years old) which means that it can be difficult to know the sex of sloths before this point.
I’m standing amongst the wreckage of felled trees and bulldozed undergrowth, my boots crunching on dead vegetation, but I’m not looking down.
I’m looking up. I’ve heard from Sarah that Luna has a new baby, just days old, and I haven’t seen her yet.
I haven’t seen much of sloths lately, it feels like. Between my other duties over the holidays and a couple of Covid scares I’ve become a little too intimately familiar with the view from my desk, the exact number of dead pixels on my computer screen, and the utter indolence of my cats, who literally do nothing other than sleep and demand food.
It feels a bit disorienting to be out in the field again. The last time I was this deep in Luna’s territory, it had more trees and less gravel, before some jerk came and tried to pave the place over. I watched from the other side of my phone screen as SloCo came to the rescue and notified the appropriate authorities of that transgression, and cheered through my coughing fits as my the community saved the remaining trees from the heavy equipment and sweated through a blistering hot day to put up fence posts to keep the tourists’ cars from finishing what the bulldozers had started.
It was in the dead branches of some of her former trees that Sarah found Luna and her new baby, trying to crawl to a safe haven through the twisted roots and twigs and spiders. Sarah reported that Luna arrived in her new tree safely, and it is now my job to figure out what the heck tree that actually was.
Our tracking equipment is being even weirder than usual. According to our radio receiver, Luna has in fact boarded a raft and is bound for—a quick check of Google maps—Aruba. It’s possible that the jungle has rusted some secret but essential piece of electronics deep inside the receiver, or that I’ve forgotten how to track sloths, or maybe that the antenna is possessed by demons.
(Note so self, Google “how to do an exorcism” when I get home. Don’t tell my boss.)
I’m still fiddling with the equipment when I have one of those perfect sloth tracking moments: I just happen to look up at a movement out of the corner of my eye and catch a slow-moving silhouette on the side of the guarumo tree. Quick as a cat, I whip out my binoculars, and then fist punches the air as I spot a three-fingered female with an itty bitty little replica of herself clinging to her fur. Another minute confirms the radio collar on her neck—this is definitely Luna!
The receiver is still insisting that Luna is somewhere out on the Caribbean waves, so I turn it off and instead pull out my phone, snap a few pictures, and then settle in for a good look at her.
Baby sloths are cute on a level that maybe ought not to be legal. They almost don’t look real; they’re just arms and eyes and fuzzy cuddles incarnate, like the living manifestation of a hug.
By now a crowd has gathered around me to marvel at the sloths. Luna has settled onto the branch she was after and gone to sleep. Watching them, I have to smile. Luna’s territory will take a long time to regrow, but here in front of me is proof that new life, and new growth, is always possible. We have named the baby Celeste, which means “heavenly”. It is also the Spanish word for the color of a clear sky in the daytime.
If you want a little taste of heaven, sometimes all you have to do is look up.