Sloths are known to spend a significant amount of their time hanging vertically upside down, yet no one has ever discovered how they manage this. If we were to stand on our heads for several hours a day, we would probably end up with a lot of problems. In my latest publication, we solve part of the mystery!
Last month, Sloth Sanctuary founder Judy and I travelled to Texas to visit the sanctuary’s sloth ambassadors currently living at the Dallas World Aquarium (DWA). Because three-fingered sloths are so notoriously difficult to maintain in captivity outside of their natural home range, I was interested to see how these sloths have adapted to living in a simulated rainforest environment in downtown Dallas!
On Tuesday April 22nd we will be celebrating Earth Day here at the Sloth Sanctuary by planting 80 sponsored Almond trees, and I will be partaking in my own personal challenge to eat a raw food diet for the week – knowing just how much I love my food, this is going to be no easy task!
It has been a rather un-slothful start to the new year, with a lot of progress being made on the sloth science front. Since Christmas, I have managed to tag an additional four wild sloths with tracking backpacks (including a mother with a baby!), and I am beginning to build up a nice picture of their ranging patterns, and perhaps most importantly, their diet.
Sloths are famous for their unusual and bizarre bathroom habits. Both two-fingered (Choloepus) and three-fingered (Bradypus) sloths will only defecate once a week, and for some strange reason they will only do it on the ground. For a sloth, this is a big deal. A sloths entire lifestyle is based around avoiding detection and using as little energy as possible. It takes a sloth an entire month to digest just one leaf, meaning that they don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to expending energy. Descending from the safety of the canopy to the forest floor is not only energetically very costly, it is also a suicide mission. Sloths are extremely vulnerable to predation when on the ground. As if that isn’t enough, these animals can store up to a third of their body weight in faeces; lugging that extra weight around is no easy task when you are a sloth. So why bother? There must be a huge selective advantage to this weird weekly routine – it should be obvious. Yet this remains one of the biggest mysteries surrounding sloth behaviour and one that scientists have struggled to explain for decades.
It’s never easy when we get a phone call at the sanctuary telling us that a sloth needs our help. On this occasion, we were told that a beautiful two-fingered sloth had been electrocuted on the power lines and was in trouble. The gentleman told us he would collect the sloth and bring her to the sanctuary – but he never arrived. We assumed the worst had happened and that she hadn’t survived. We were wrong.