Tagging our first wild Two-fingered sloth

by Sloth Sanctuary on 02/23/2015

Original report by Becky Cliffe; edited to fit our blog.

I had been trying to tag a wild Two-fingered sloth since beginning the Sloth Backpack Project, but equipment failures, injuries and escapee-sloths stood in my way. I finally managed to do this in November, although it was no easy task!

Two-fingered sloth in tree

Becket, before being tagged

I first spotted her in a large Sangrillo tree located across the lagoon in front of the Sanctuary. I knew she would have to climb down when she wanted to change trees but I didn’t know how long this would take. Two-fingered sloths love Sangrillo leaves so she might stay there for days and because their movements are primarily nocturnal, it might be after dark when she made her descent. Two-fingered sloths are also bigger, faster and stronger than Three-fingered sloths — and sometimes use their large teeth in defense. To minimize stress on the animal and ensure our safety, we needed to sedate her before tagging.

To my dismay I glanced at the tree just 2 minutes after first spotting her, but she had completely disappeared. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to catch her, and so I ran through the jungle, across the lagoon and to the base of the tree, but she had vanished. I began frantically searching the surrounding vegetation for any sign of a sloth. After half an hour of wondering how she could have disappeared so quickly, I spotted a ball of

She's way up there!

She’s way up there!

brown hair curled in a coconut tree overhanging the lagoon. She was above head height, but within climbing reach. I had learned from previous experience that I’d need help, so I called the Sanctuary handyman Donald and veterinarian Dr. Francisco Arroyo. They arrived well-prepared with ladders, machetes, gloves, a stuffed plush bear and the all-important tranquilizer. Despite having the necessary equipment and experienced team, capturing this sloth was not easy.

As Donald climbed upwards on the thin branches, she panicked and began making her escape (surprisingly quickly) – across the lagoon. There were some very flimsy branches traversing the water, and she took her chance. Donald followed in hot pursuit, clutching the stuffed bear under his arm, but the tree just wouldn’t support his weight. Becket-rescue-vignettes_022315Balancing over the water, he called for backup and a boatman quickly arrived in a canoe. By now, the sloth was fairly high up, still over the lagoon, resting on some vines. Undaunted, we cut a large forked branch and, while balancing in the canoe, Donald used it to hook the vines and pull them (and the sloth) downwards. This worked surprisingly well until she panicked and began charging at him! Donald reacted quickly and managed to tranquilize her before anything worse could happen. We had a 3-minute window before the sedative took effect, and she made her way as high up the tree as possible before falling asleep. Thankfully, her tree of choice was fairly climbable for a determined human. We finally had her!

Within a few hours, I sewed her harness, sealed her backpack and activated the tags. This particular backpack was sponsored by the Earth Touch News Network. I have been writing a blog  for them called “Slothcentric” and they were delighted to learn that their backpack would be the first to be deployed on a wild Two-fingered sloth. To thank them for their support, I let Earth Touch name this feisty female, and they chose “Becket”, a clever combination of Becky and Earth Touch!

Backpack sponsored by the Earth Touch Network

Backpack sponsored by the Earth Touch Network

We released Becket where I had originally found her, but she didn’t hang around for long. By the following day she had crossed over the lagoon and was at the top of a huge tree, far inside the forest. I have been tracking her ever since, and am beginning to piece together her activity patterns.

Off she goes, outfitted with her new backpack

Away she goes, outfitted with her new backpack …

 

 

Becket is a sloth that we were already very familiar with – she has been a regular visitor to the trees around the Sanctuary for years. We often used to see a wild Two-fingered sloth in one of the big almond trees across the river; one day we noticed she had a tiny baby. We watched her over the course of a year as that baby grew and gained independence. That was Becket with her baby. I often still see them both in the same almond tree, and I am hoping to soon tag her now fully-grown baby. It will be interesting to see how their home-ranges differ! In the meantime, I am still trying to recapture Becket to change the batteries on her backpack and download the data – hopefully it will be easier than the first time!

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Mr. Bojangles

by R Richardson on 10/06/2014

Over the past 10 weeks I have been battling to regain my health after being diagnosed with Leishmaniasis – and as a result, progress with the Sloth Backpack Project has been somewhat slow. This week my luck finally changed, and for the first time in a long time I was able to return to the jungle. As I was searching to locate my tagged sloths, I stumbled across something extraordinary. There was what appeared to be a baby three-fingered sloth, quietly sitting about 5 meters off the ground. He didn’t look to be more than 8 months old, yet he was completely alone.

Bojangles making his way up to the canopy after being released with a tiny tracking Sloth Backpack

 

One of the primary aims of the Sloth Backpack Project is to understand how female sloths raise their babies, with the hope of developing a successful release program for hand-reared orphans at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. Since beginning the backpack project, I have been lucky enough to tag two female sloths that were nursing babies (first Madonna, and then ApplePie). Unfortunately, both babies died before reaching independence. This was a huge disappointment and a major set-back for my research. Now, as I stared at this baby sloth, I was completely stumped. This baby looked too young to be alone, yet he was perfectly content sitting there on a branch. Why was he alone? Where was his mother? Had he been abandoned or just weaned?

 

Bojangles is a little bit of a mystery

We decided to get him down and give him a health check, just to make sure that he was OK. Despite weighing only 1.42 kg, he was in perfect health – bright eyes, great skin, a full stomach and lots of strength. We can only assume that he had just been weaned from his mother and was in the process of finding his independence! A baby sloth will usually stay with its mother for a full year following birth, and so it remains a bit of a mystery why this little sloth was alone so young. We took the decision to release him back into the forest equipped with a tiny tracking backpack, allowing us to monitor his progress and ensure his safety. This will also provide us with valuable information about how baby sloths learn to establish a home range and adapt to a solitary life after being weaned.

 

We brought Bojangles back to the sanctuary for a health check, and he passed with flying colors!

 

This surprising little sloth was named Bojangles, and I am happy to report that so far so good! Following his release, Bojangles made his way up through a network of vines and settled down in a dense area of the canopy – and there he remains! It is always difficult spotting my tagged sloths as they camouflage so well, but spotting a tiny baby sloth amongst the canopy is a whole new challenge!

 

Spotting a baby sloth in the rainforest canopy is hard work!

 

7 months ago I was fortunate enough to tag a female sloth carrying a baby – this was Apple and Pie (you can read their story here). After 3 months, I found Apple without her baby and we all assumed that she had lost him. Now, coincidentally, I found Bojangles within Apples home-range, in one of her favourite feeding trees. Furthermore, Bojangles looks identical to baby Pie. Could this actually be the same sloth? Perhaps Apple didn’t lose Pie after all? But why did he disappear from her chest so suddenly? Or maybe this is just a huge coincidence. The only way we will ever know the answer to this mystery is by doing genetic tests. We are in the planning stages of a study into sloth population genetics, and so this is definitely on the agenda for the future!

Same face? Left: Baby Pie before he disappeared. Right: Bojangles.

 

We will keep you updated on his progress, and hopefully he will continue to surprise us!

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