Cahuita, Costa Rica – May 19, 2016

Claims of sloth abuse and misappropriation of funds have been levelled against the Sloth Sanctuary by former veterinary interns, spouses Camila Dünner and Gabriel Pastor. A tabloid-style “exposé” was published on May 19th by the online outlet “The Dodo”. The Sloth Sanctuary categorically denies the allegations and states that the article’s photos, captions and content have been fabricated and manipulated with photographs being used out of context by the couple.

Drs. Dünner and Pastor, from Chile and Uruguay respectively, were with the Sloth Sanctuary for 10 months. This was Dr. Dünner’s first professional assignment out of veterinary school. The veterinary interns were profiled in the Sanctuary newsletter and appeared on television in their professional roles and never expressed any criticism of the Sanctuary.

Due to increasing interpersonal conflicts with personnel, the couple made clear their desire to leave the Sanctuary in March 2016; however, they requested to stay on for two months to wrap up work in progress. At this juncture, they began to craft a calculated attack on the Sloth Sanctuary. After demanding monetary compensation for their “copyrighted” release initiative—compiled while working at the Sanctuary—they were asked to leave as soon as possible and not stay the entire two months. Their strategic revenge began when they removed invaluable biological samples that were Sanctuary property, claiming the samples belonged to them. The Sanctuary asked for the samples to be returned, but the couple would not release them. The Sloth Sanctuary refused their demands for money and reported their actions to Costa Rican authorities. They then began to publicly threaten to shut down the Sanctuary by a sustained smear campaign.

MINAE, the Ministry of Environment, which oversees the Sanctuary and all other rescue centers in Costa Rica, has inspected the facility twice in the past three weeks, addressing the complaints presented to them by Drs. Dünner and Pastor. The MINAE findings report is due to be released in the near future and the Sanctuary is poised to make any corrections deemed necessary. The Sloth Sanctuary acknowledges that there are always areas for improvement, but claims of neglect, abuse and misappropriation of donated funds are categorically false and intended to slander and discredit Judy Avey-Arroyo’s 25 years of dedication to the sloths of Costa Rica.

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

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:

Donate to plant an Almond Tree for Earth Day 2016

8 April 2016

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 […]

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Marshmallow’s progress

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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 […]

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Rescue: Spirit

3 March 2016

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 […]

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Stacy is doing great in the wild! (English/español)

28 January 2016

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 […]

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The Rescue of Stacy & Peggy: Conclusion (bilingual edition)

1 January 2016

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 […]

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The Rescue of Stacy & Peggy: Part 2

1 January 2016

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 […]

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Symbolically adopt a Sanctuary sloth!

22 December 2015
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Gift Certificates | “Adopt” a sloth

21 December 2015

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. […]

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