The Sloth Institute of Costa Rica (TSI) is the headquarters for the cutest animals on the planet. They were founded in 2014 with the mission of “enhancing the welfare of captive and wild sloths through research and education.” They are a non-profit institution based in Manuel Antonio, supported completely by donations. TSI is truly leading the world in sloth research, especially the study of 3-toed sloths, the most difficult to rehabilitate and reintroduce back into the wild, and the poster child for Costa Rican wildlife.
Sam Trull, Sloth Director and Co-Founder of TSI says about her work with sloths, “Three-toed sloths are not known to survive in rehabilitation very well. I have been contacted by many other rescue centers in Latin America that have not been able to achieve this yet because it is so difficult, so we are really excited that we’ve been able to get three-fingered sloths to the goal of release.”
There are six species of sloths, divided into two families: 2-toed sloths and 3-toed sloths. All sloths actually have three toes, the distinction is in the number of fingers – 2-toed sloths have three toes, but only two fingers. This confusion no doubt arose because in Spanish the word for both toes and fingers is “dedos”, making it unclear which digit is involved. Sloths cannot walk, they drag themselves along slowly with their long front appendages, spending most of their time in trees. They are “arboreal” creatures, meaning that they live, love, sleep, and give birth up in the trees, descending only once a week or so to defecate. They can lose up to 30% of their body weight after they poop.
Because sloths cannot move efficiently while on the ground, they become victims to cars, dog attacks, and even illegal animal poachers. While in the trees they are susceptible to electrocution from power lines. They are, amazingly great swimmers. Their metabolisms are very slow, it sometimes can take up to thirty days to digest their food. They spend 90% of their time completely motionless. Sloth hair is home to green algae which helps camouflage them while in the trees – their favourite is the cecropia tree, sometimes known as the sloth tree.
The Sloth Institute is not open to the public because they feel that human contact makes it more difficult for sloths to return to the wild after rehabilitation, the ultimate goal of the Institute. Probably the greatest achievement of the Sloth Institute has been their work with the well-known 3-toed sloth, recognizable by its course hair, and by the raccoon mask on its face. There are places, however, where it is possible to see sloths up close, and even hold one. The Sloth Institute collaborates with Toucan Rescue Ranch, where it is possible to interact with sloths, and some tourist tours provide that opportunity also.
Not without scandal, the nonprofit sloth world was rocked two years ago when volunteers reported deplorable living conditions at another sloth rescue center: overcrowded cages, animals sickly and neglected, and other signs of animals being poorly attended. That cast a shadow over all sloth rescue centers, but conditions have been improved recently. Happiness has been restored in the sloth rescue world. Slothsome.
Contact the Sloth Institute for more information at www.theslothinstitute.org.