Madonna is the female three-fingered sloth with a baby that I tagged 3 months ago with a GPS tracking backpack. Whilst out in the forest this week searching for her, I began to receive very strange radio signals. Something was wrong. After a few hours of searching and hacking through the dense undergrowth, I stumbled across an interesting surprise…
Her backpack was on the ground and Madonna was nowhere to be seen. Of course my first thought was that something terrible had happened, but on closer inspection, things weren’t quite adding up. Her harness and backpack were completely intact and working perfectly – the clips were all still fastened, the straps were still elasticated and showing no signs of wear and tear, and there were no signs of an attack. If a human had taken off her backpack, surely they wouldn’t have bothered to re-fasten the clips!
The only possible explanation is that she somehow managed to take off the harness herself. Now I am sure this sounds like a plausible explanation, but if you could see the harness design for yourself then you would tell me I am crazy. The harness was designed so that it would be impossible for her to take off without undoing the clips. Madonna taking her backpack off would be the equivalent of a human escaping from a straight jacket whilst hanging upside down in a tree. Yet I have no other explanation. I must stop underestimating these incredible animals!
This initially seems like a terrible situation, but it has actually worked out quite well. I have developed a great understanding of her movement patterns and I know her favourite trees well. After a few days of searching (and a lot of neck-ache from staring upwards), I managed to locate her and she is doing absolutely fine. As soon as she comes down low enough, I will be tagging her again with a VHF radio transmitter so I can continue monitoring her movements. In fact, this has all worked out rather well – I was desperately needing to collect her backpack so I could download the last 2 months of data and recharge the batteries. I was thrilled with how well our design worked: all the data logging equipment was bone dry and in perfect condition.
Professor Wilson is coming out to the Sloth Sanctuary next week and he is bringing with him some brand new Daily Diary data loggers so I will be equipping Madonna with one of these. This week I have also ordered 8 new backpacks that will be delivered over Christmas so we will have many more tagged sloths to follow in the new year. The challenge is now set for me to design a harness that cannot be taken off by the Houdini of the sloth world – your ideas are more than welcome!!