Behold little Ziggy! This tiny Choloepus was rescued August 6 in a Limón Province village with a bad reputation for trouble. Ziggy’s mother was killed by dogs, an all too-common occurrence in Costa Rica. Whether dogs are pampered pets or sentries for illegal activity, their canine instinct usually classifies sloths as prey. Though orphaned as a result of the attack, baby Ziggy was saved by the dogs’ owners. They called us and, in turn, we enlisted the help of MINAE for this rescue. While Ziggy did not have injuries related to the attack, he was suffering from a tenacious fungal skin condition that causes lesions and patchy hair loss. Fungal infections are notoriously challenging: they take quite some time to eradicate, then even longer for the skin and hair to heal. Just under three months later, Ziggy is doing much better under our care in the NICU. You may notice the bare path under his chin in the video—this is greatly improved from when he arrived. In his intake medical exam, he weighed 580g (1.28 lb) and now, thanks to his good appetite, he weighs 665g (1.47 lb).
Since our first sloth rescue in 1992, we have always aimed to act in the best interest of the sloths of Costa Rica. For over two decades there were no other sloth-only rescue facilities in the world. With so little known about these enigmatic mammals, we basically taught ourselves how to care for them. We expanded when more sloths required rescuing due to development of land for habitation and infrastructure. We have worked closely with the Costa Rican government to ensure we are providing the best possible care within our self-funded means.
Right now the core issue for us is the release of rescued infant sloths. While earlier this year we were working on a protocol for hand-raised sloths, this initiative was recently placed on hold. Our concern: Sloths that are hand-raised due to their mothers’ death or disappearance do not have the life skills to be released into the wild. They do not innately know which trees to forage or what naturally-occurring dangers (such as rivers and hornets’ nests) to avoid. Unlike newly-hatched sea turtles that inherit distinct survival skills, newborn mammals learn survival skills and self-sufficiency from their mothers. Wild baby sloths spend months with their mothers observing the choices they make. If this cycle is interrupted (most often due to human encroachment in their habitat), there is no other way for the baby to learn what it needs to take care of itself.
Another problematic facet is abandonment due to health deficiencies. When sloth mothers, like other wild animals, observe/sense a deficiency in their offspring many instinctively abandon it—removing it from the gene pool (Darwinism). As rescuers, we try to save the baby from dying, but the conundrum arises when considering it for release: is it safe to reintroduce these “deficient” sloths back into wild sloth populations?
We are currently involved in a massive genetics study with Swansea University (UK) PhD candidate Rebecca Cliffe in collaboration with renowned geneticist Dr. Sofia Consuegra. This study will provide invaluable data on sloth species and the potential of subspecies as well as genetic diversity—their findings are vital for the success of a release program. We are not the only ones dealing with the genetic reintroduction issue. Scientists just recently raised concerns about the alarming ramifications of mixing genetically distinct populations with the release of more than 90 rehabilitated orangutans into the wilds of Borneo. For full information, please refer to Dr. Graham Banes’ paper here.
Sweeping statements (made by others) that almost all rescued infant sloths can be safely released has absolutely no scientific or historical data to support such actions, and releasing them without monitoring would constitute inhumane treatment and potentially wreak havoc within their gene pool.
We recently ordered small, lightweight GPS tracking collars that will provide us essential data about the success rates of rescued sloths released back to the wild. We are looking to collaborate with educational institutions and scientists in Costa Rica or elsewhere who can provide the requisite expertise and background to create and implement a genetically acceptable and humane release program. If you have input or interest, please email release@SlothSanctuary.com
Addenda: Fascinating video featuring Dr. Sarah Bexell discussing the essential survival skills that giant panda babies can only get from their mothers if allowed the proper time together. This parallels our assertion that baby sloths can only learn life skills from their mothers. If orphaned or abandoned, the sloth does not know how to survive on its own. This is why many sloths that were hand-reared cannot be humanely released. At about 16:50 minutes into Dr. Bexell’s lecture, she talks about reintroducing mammals to the wild:
Our third annual Earth Day Almond Tree project is in full swing. For $140 USD, we will plant a Terminalia catappa sapling in our orchard. These trees help prevent erosion, create shade against evaporation, its leaves feed wild and rescued sloths and promote rainforest conservation. This is the most important gift we can give to sloths: protecting their habitats from destruction. We will honor your donation by including an inscription on the donors’ plaque. You may choose to by anonymous or display your name. Or add an inscription to celebrate an anniversary, wedding, retirement, new baby, milestone birthday, graduation—and there is a special in memoriam section for late loved ones’ names. We will send you (or someone else) the optional 4-piece thank-you gift pack. Thank you for your generosity and for supporting sloths and our planet.
Here’s our “sweet” sloth friend, Marshmallow. His weight has now increased to 1,050 grams/about 2 lbs. and he is looking more grown-up every day. If you’ve been following his progress, his coat was much lighter when he was rescued; it’s now developing into the most marvelous blend of colors. Marshmallow is curious and observant, you see him here basking in the Costa Rican sun.
Guests still marvel when they seem him during their Sanctuary tours; there’s just something very charismatic about this handsome Choloepus. Planning your vacation/holiday for later this year? Visit us on Costa Rica’s Caribbean southeastern side. Meet the sloths … for real!
In very late February 2016, in nearby Puerto Viejo, a schoolgirl found a newborn Three-fingered sloth that had fallen out of a tree and was all alone. The sloth’s mother was never seen and did not return, so the girl’s mother called us for help.
This baby Bradypus was given a full examination. Its age was estimated to be just a few days old, weighing 272 grams (just under 10 ounces)!
Though very fragile, this baby Bradypus appears strong with a will to live. We chose Spirit as a seemingly fitting name and s/he is being bottle-fed goat’s milk every three hours around the clock. Due to Spirit’s young age and weight, this presents a very challenging situation for us. We only hope that the spirit that we see in this little sloth carries it toward gaining weight and growing bigger.
You may recall that adult Choloepus Stacy had suffered a severe injury to her arm, including a fractured wrist, and a painful wait until she was rescued and brought to us for treatment. After a few months of rehab, we were thrilled to release Stacy late last month on the Sloth Sanctuary grounds, over 300 acres of government-recognized, wildlife-protected land. The haunted expression Stacy had when she was rescued has now been replaced with a bright-eyed inner strength and renewed confidence. Her arm and wrist have healed well and she’s clearly taking care of herself. We were happy to see her use her healed arm to clamber back into an area we affectionately call “Sloth Island”, a verdant jungle surrounded by the Estrella River. Three cheers for Stacy’s continued progress!
Probablemente recuerdan a Stacy, la Choloepus adulta que sufrió una grave lesión en su brazo, incluyendo una muñeca fracturada y una dolorosa espera hasta que fue rescatada y traída a nosotros para su tratamiento. Después de meses de rehabilitación, estuvimos muy emocionados de liberar a Stacy el mes pasado en el terreno del Santuario, más de 120 hectáreas de territorio protegido para vida silvestre, reconocido por el gobierno. Las fotos están algo borrosas pero está claro que la expresión de angustia de Stacy de cuando fue rescatada ha sido reemplazada ahora por unos ojos brillantes que demuestran fuerza interior y confianza renovada. Su brazo y muñeca han sanado bien y claramente ha podido cuidar de si misma. Estamos felices de verla usar su brazo curado para escalar de vuelta a un área que, afectivamente, llamamos la “Isla de los perezosos”, una verde jungla rodeada por el Río Estrella. Tres hurras por el progreso continuo de Stacy!
We are at the conclusion of Stacy’s rescue story. In the three months of rehabilitation, her fractured ulna has healed and she has regained climbing strength. Stacy graduated to the transitional soft-release Almond Tree enclosure where we observed her progress. When we were confident she was ready for release, we did a final health check that included hematology, blood biochemistry, fecal/urine tests and an X-ray. This revealed that the soft tissue had regenerated properly to support the area around the bone, with the lateral tendons giving essential stability. We needed to mark her for easy identification in the wild so we tinted Stacy’s back fur with veterinary crayon/cattle paint that will stand out against the camouflage of the leafy green canopy. We have learned a lot about Choloepus physiology, biology and behavior during this bittersweet rescue. Every sloth that we are able to release gives us encouragement to refine the process and make it easier for the animals. From a veterinary perspective, we feel confident that Stacy received the best care available. And from a human perspective, while we still mourn the loss of her baby, we are hopeful she will have a good quality of life once again among the tall trees of the forest.
Estamos concluyendo la historia del rescate de Stacy. En los tres meses de rehabilitación, su ulna fracturada sanó y ella recuperó su fuerza para escalar. Stacy se graduó al Almendro transicional de pre-liberación, donde observamos su progreso. Cuando estuvimos seguros de que ella estaba lista para ser liberada, realizamos una última revisión de salud general, que incluyó hematología, bioquímica sanguínea, tests de heces y orina, y una radiografía. Ésta demostró que el tejido blando se regeneró adecuadamente, soportando el área alrededor del hueso, con los tendones laterales entregando la estabilidad esencial. Necesitábamos marcarla para identificarla facilmente pero aún estamos en el proceso de conseguir collares GPS. Es por esto que pintamos el pelaje del dorso de Stacy con un crayon veterinario/marcador para bovinos que resalta entre el camuflaje del verde dosel de hojas. Hemos aprendido mucho sobre la fisiología, biología y comportamiento de los Choloepus con este rescate agridulce. Cada perezoso que logramos liberar nos da aliento para refinar el proceso y hacerlo más fácil para los animales. Desde una perspectiva veterinaria, estamos confiados en que Stacy recibió los mejores cuidados posibles. Y desde una perspectiva humana, aunque todavía lamentamos la pérdida de su bebé, tenemos esperanza en que ella tendrá una buena calidad de vida ahora nuevamente en los altos árboles de la selva.
This is a story of joy and sorrow. Choloepus Stacy was brought to us in a tiny wooden box by a firefighter in September 2015. She was wet, dirty, disoriented and a small baby was clinging to her.
During Stacy’s examination, it was obvious that she was unable to move her left arm. It was very swollen and presented deep, infected injuries and puncture wounds from her shoulder to her palm. Based on their condition, we believed these injuries were not recent. We saw that the distal part of the ulna (near the wrist) was exposed and probably broken. Stacy arrived before our new X-ray equipment was installed; we have since confirmed the bone break.
We shaved Stacy’s arm fur, cleaned and disinfected the wound, immobilized the arm, then bandaged it. We began systemic antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and vitamin therapy. Every week we repeated the procedure to evaluate her progress and change her bandages. The baby, Peggy, always stayed on Stacy during the process, sometimes suckling, exploring or sleeping under a blanket. We only detached the baby for their general checkups and weekly weigh-ins. Peggy appeared to be strong and fearless.
Mother and daughter stayed in quarantine for two weeks. We eventually transferred them to a large outdoor enclosure where Peggy could continue to rest her arm while in close proximity to her natural forest environment.
Everything appeared to be going to plan—until one night we discovered that baby Peggy had separated herself from her mother and was gravely hypothermic. Despite our efforts, she could not be saved. Apparently, Peggy had been trying to nurse but Stacy had stopped producing milk. We believe that Stacy had ingested too many leaves and overtaxed her digestive system, causing lactation function to cease. Sloths’ mammary glands are not external, so it was not obvious to us that she had stopped lactating.
Baby Peggy’s passing is still extremely emotional for us: we wish we could have foreseen it and taken action to save her. Following the baby’s death, Stacy appeared more depressed and her healing was slow. However, she began to revitalize and gain weight a few weeks ago. Her coat began to improve and she appeared more active and engaged. It has now been two months since her rescue. The fracture has a satisfactory callus (new bone formation). Stacy has regained complete use of her arm and has just been moved to the soft-release Almond Tree enclosure for exercise and observation.
Retelling the story of Stacy and Peggy gives us mixed feelings: frustration and sorrow for not being able to save Peggy, but joy for Stacy’s ability to overcome a severe injury and the death of her offspring. Seeing her in the Almond Tree enclosure gives us hope. Her fighting spirit is truly inspiring.
We invite you to see our Support the Sloths page for gift ideas for sloth-fans, including Insider’s Tour Gift Certificates if your friend or relative is coming to Costa Rica and is planning to visit the Sanctuary. Insider’s Tours are $150 USD for each adult and are valid for two years from the issue date.
Also, our new symbolic sloth adoption program called Compadres is $80 USD for a single payment or $20 monthly installments. We’ll send your family member or friend a fun Compadres Adoption Pack to make things official.
Best wishes to you in 2016 from all of us here at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica! And thank you for your support of Costa Rican sloths.