Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sloth - a profile of one of the gentlest jungle mammals

The sloth is one of the more unusual animals in the Costa Rica rainforest, and it is encountered frequently by those inspired to adventure on the most rural Costa Rica ecotourism excursions.

Two species of sloth can be seen in Costa Rica– the three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) and the two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni). Sloths, whose diet consists primarily of leaves, live up to their name, sometimes remaining for days in the same tree and crawling slowly through the canopy when on the move.

Normally found sleeping in tree tops during the day, sloths are most active from dusk till dawn. They sleep an average of eighteen hours a day, so it is most common to see them as unmoving furry balls tucked into the crooks of tree branches. Sometimes while relaxing the day away, they hang upside down and scratch, then slowly return to their slightly more upright position to resume their nap.

These quiet jungle mammals are well camouflaged, stealthy and usually very still, so they can be hard to spot without the asssitance of the trained eyes of a naturalist guide. Like cows and sheep, they have "several stomachs" where the long process of digesting all that greenery can take place. Even so, there is not much energy to be had from their vegetarian diet, so the sloth doesn’t waste any. Their movements are slow, very slow, and of course, and they like nothing better than sunbathing, especially in the morning, to warm their tummies and help speed their digestion.

They are highly adapted to living in the treetops by being quite light for their size and having a tenacious grip In the wild the Sloths coats “play host to an entire ecosystem” - they often sport a greenish coat of algae on their grayish brown fur (thought to be a camouflage adaptation made possible by the physical structure of sloth hair), which harbors a number of moth and beetle species.

They are as important as any other creature to the ecosystem of the rain forest and are beautiful, sensitive, loving creatures that do not carry or pass diseases. These animals live only between 15° north and south of the equator in the rainforest canopies of the Americas. They also are amazingly resilient creatures, surviving falls of over 90 feet and by having the ability to recover from the most serious of wounds.

What tourists find to be unusual, adorable creatures, some locals — who call them "osos perezosos," or lazy bears — have been known to treat like pests.

Luckily for these friendly creatures Costa Rica has a sloth sanctuary. This sanctuary has successfully reared over 100 orpahned sloths and in addition to rehabilitation of orphaned or injured sloths, the rescue center seeks to prevent sloth abuse through education programs, including one with financial backing from the fruit company Dole, which buses in the children of its field workers for sloth classes at the center.
You can help the sloth sanctuary directly through the "adopt a sloth" program.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a sloth on your next Costa Rica ecotourism trip and of course you can visit the Sloth Sanctuary!

You can read an article by Alex Leff on the GlobalPost on his visit to the Sloth sanctuary

You can see some great colourful photos from the i reporters at CNN on the CNN website here

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