Over the past few years, birth defects in baby sloths have increased dramatically. The deformities include missing fingers/toes, malformed ears, misshapen limbs and partial or full albinism. High numbers of birth defects warn us that something has shifted. To date we have rescued nine orphaned infants presenting birth defects. All are Choloepus hoffmanni originating from our area, the Limon province on the Caribbean coast. This troubling trend has prompted Becky Cliffe and Professor Rory Wilson to determine the cause.
Scientists are increasingly concerned about sloth habitat fragmentation and the inbreeding that results from smaller territories. It’s not a stretch to imagine how the genetic health of wild sloth populations would be affected. Data collected at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is expected to identify probable causes of these birth defects. A targeted conservation strategy can be devised once the necessary genetic research is completed.
More than 300 hair samples of wild sloths were collected from 97+ regions of Costa Rica to support this groundbreaking research. This is the largest sample size ever collected and studied. The study’s findings are expected to be published because conservation genetics is a topic of global interest. We will update you as the study progresses.
Crowdfunding has made this project a reality, and Becky is thankful for the contributions that will support this study.
Becky Cliffe, Ph.D. Student
Professor Rory Wilson