Judy Avey-Arroyo grew up in Alaska where she met her Costa Rican husband, Luis Arroyo, in 1970. They traveled to Costa Rica to introduce Judy to his family and to his beloved country. Falling in love with the wild Caribbean coast, they bought 320 acres of land along the Estrella River near Penshurt, about 30 kilometers south of the port city of Limón. Family and friends thought they were crazy to buy swampland, but Judy and Luis saw the potential of their little piece of paradise. In 1975 they had their land declared a “Privately-owned Biological Reserve” with the Costa Rican government. Returning to Costa Rica every school vacation, their dream summer home was completed in 1977.
After moving permanently in 1986, the Arroyos bought a restaurant outside of the capital city of San José. When it became a successful stop for tourists on their way to the Pacific coast, the Arroyos sold it and purchased a large pontoon boat to offer tours of their jungle and island, showcasing over 325 bird species to intrepid visitors who ventured to the remote Caribbean coast.
In 1991, a deadly 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck near Limón, destroying the family’s home and putting an end to their popular birdwatching river tour. Undaunted, the Arroyos rebuilt their home and added a small hotel.
Their destiny was forever changed in 1992, when three girls brought them an orphaned three-fingered baby sloth. Luis and Judy called the San José zoo for help. The zoo was not familiar with the care of wild sloths, so the Arroyos, armed with common sense and compassion, began feeding her the leaves that the wild sloths in the trees in their forest ate.
Today, 23 year-old Buttercup, the sweet-faced Three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus), still greets visitors to the Sanctuary from her wicker hanging basket-chair, sometimes hamming it up for the camera.
Two years after Buttercup’s arrival, a local bus driver brought the Arroyos another infant sloth; a Two-fingered sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). Other people found out that Luis and Judy cared for sloths and kept bring othe injured and orphaned sloths to them. They realized this was their dream and so in 1997 became an authorized sloth rescue center.
In 2004, their daughter, Ursula, and her four sons joined them permanently and now are an integral part of the daily management of the Sanctuary. Their other daughter, Judie, and granddaughter Carlie, join the family every summer to keep up with goings-on of the Sanctuary.
The Arroyos have rescued 500+ sloths; about 150 are permanent residents due to disability or other circumstances. 120+ have been rehabilitated and returned to their home in the forest. Most of the permanent residents were infants when they arrived, and without their mother’s care and teaching, are unprepared for life in the forest. At this time we do not know enough about their habits in the wild to teach them what they need to know to be successful in the forest. The other residents are physically unable to survive in the wild because of amputations, injuries to hands and feet from high-tension wires, and several have lost their sight.
In 2003 the Sloth Sanctuary formed a key alliance with Daryl Richardson, owner of the Dallas World Aquarium (DWA) in Texas. Over the years DWA has played an integral part in the Sanctuary’s conservation and education programs. 6 hand-reared sloths, 3 Bradypus variegatus and 3 Choloepus hoffmanni from the Sanctuary are now at home at the DWA. Leno, a handsome Bradypus male holds court in his open-air grove of trees at the Aquarium, charming visitors. He has been photographed by thousands of new sloth-admirers.
With the addition of Becky Cliffe, PhD candidate from the University of Swansea (UK), we have made great strides in understanding these enigmatic creatures. Please read about Becky’s groundbreaking Sloth Backpack Project to learn more.
We’re looking forward to writing the next chapter of the Sanctuary’s progress and are grateful for your support.