Update: Sloth Research, Conservation and Life in the Slow Lane

2017 has been an eventful year so far with new sloth research as well as the launch of our coffee-table book – with proceeds going towards supporting The Sloth Conservation Foundation 

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Male (covered in algae) Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

To begin, I have completed two more research papers that have both been submitted for publication (and are currently in the review process). The first one looks at the metabolic rate of three-fingered sloths and how this changes with temperature. We have found that the sloths are capable of doing something quite extraordinary when they get too hot – but I’m not able to give any further details away until the paper is officially published.

The second paper looks at the effect of temperature on the metabolic rate of two-fingered sloths. This time we look at how sloths from high altitude locations (where it is colder) have different metabolic adaptations to the climate. We also use climate change estimations to predict the impact that global warming will have on the energetics (and consequently the survival) of sloths in different regions. I will send links to both papers as soon as they are published, but for now that is all I can give away!

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus Rebecca Cliff, sloth biologist, releasing sloth wearing "sloth backpack" Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica *Model release available

I am also still busy in the genetics lab. The analysis of the hair samples has taken far longer than expected (as always seems to be the case with sloths), but we are so close to the end now. We have most of the results already but there are just a few remaining samples that we have had to do repeat tests on. We are waiting to get the conclusive results through for those and then construction of the research paper can begin!

In the meantime, I have been busy writing the paper that encompasses all the work from the sloth backpack project. This includes all of the movement, activity, and behavioural data for all of the wild sloths that I studied for over 6 years. It has been a mammoth task to analyse the mountains of data and pick out exactly what is happening (imagine excel spreadsheets with over a million different rows….)! But I am glad to say it is almost complete. The biggest challenge has been trying to match up the sloth behaviour data with the corresponding weather data. It’s far too much to do manually, but with the statistical expertise of paeleo-ecologist Ryan Haupt from the university of Wyoming, we now have a solution.

sloco logo2

The Sloth Conservation Foundation 

My deadline for having all of this research finished is fast approaching as I have to hand in my PhD thesis in August. However, the sloth work does not end there. In august I am moving back to Costa Rica to work full time on the Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo). This will include continued scientific research as well as the implementation of our first targeted conservation strategies. These projects will be funded by the profits from our book and 2018 Sloth calendar and our adoptions/donations via our website. Our primary goals for 2018 are:

  • To initiate a project aiming to reduce the number of sloth electrocutions by funding the re-insulation of power lines in key areas
  •  To launch our first educational outreach program teaching children about sloths and the importance of protecting the rainforest ecosystem. We want to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to reduce their impact on wildlife in the future. In order to do this, we plan on employing and training local people to deliver classes in the community schools.
  • To improve rehabilitation and release programs by monitoring the long-term survival of hand-reared sloths that have been returned to the wild using radio-tracking equipment.


SLOTHS: Life in the Slow Lane 

Finally, I would like to end by telling you about our latest fundraising venture for SloCo. I have teamed up with world renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas to produce a coffee-table book all about sloths. Pre-order copies are on sale now and for a limited time only come with a FREE signed print of an adorable sloth mom and baby
Getting the spectacular images for this book wasn’t easy… it took us on many wild adventures where we spent months on end in the jungle, were forced to go undercover, got stranded on a desert island and caught in tropical storms at sea. The book reveals some of the latest scientific discoveries and provides insights into the previously unknown habits of these unusual animals.

Click here to pre-order

Pygmy three-toed sloth Bradypus pygmaeus Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama

Lastly, I would like to thank you for your continued support. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to complete any of the research or conservation work that is so important to protect a future for sloths in the wild. I will provide a further update as soon as I can, but for now, it’s back to data analysis!

All the best,

Rebecca Cliffe

Images copyright Suzi Eszterhas www.suzieszterhas.com



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