Animals all over the world are being exploited as tourist attractions. We might think that a photo of us riding an elephant, swimming with a dolphin – or holding a sloth – will impress our friends and family back home. It will make everyone on our social media feed jealous. But at what cost? Some people do it for the experience rather than the wildlife selfie. We all want to know what it is like to feed a tiger cub or cuddle a monkey. We are tactile creatures and it is human nature to want to touch and pet animals.
When you imagine a sloth, you probably think of a simple, lazy creature that does very little other than sleep all day. In fact, you might wonder how such an animal survives in the wild at all. Even the very name “sloth” in most languages translates as a version of lazy. In 1749 when sloths were first described in the scientific literature they were labelled as “the lowest form of existence” – it is little surprising that sloths have been subject to such profound speculation and misinterpretation; “sloths are slow because they eat leaves that drug them”; “sloths are so stupid that they mistake their own arm for a tree branch and, grabbing it, fall”; “if you cut the head off a sloth, the heart will continue to beat for 15 minutes……”. I have heard it all. But what does it really mean to be a sloth? Why are they so slow? And why does it work?
Sloth populations across South and Central America, like many other animals, are under threat from unprecedented levels of habitat loss. There is no way to escape the fact that 1-2 acres of rainforest land are cleared every single second. That means that in the time it has taken you to read this sentence, 8 more acres of rainforest have disappeared. Think how many sloths (among all of the other wildlife) would have been living in those 8 acres? It’s quite frankly alarming to say the least – up to 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every single day due to rainforest destruction.
But what are the driving factors behind the massive amounts of deforestation? And what can we do about it? Can we even make a difference as individuals? The answer is yes.
“Your job is amazing”, “How can I get a job like that?”, “I want to be a sloth scientist”
These are the usual responses I get when I tell people that I’m a sloth researcher. Granted, I love what I do, but unfortunately I have to correct the situation rather quickly – a ‘job’ would suggest I get a wage. Since embarking on this wild and wonderful journey almost 7 years ago, I haven’t been paid once. Everything that I do, every day, is a labour of love. But how did I get here? How do I survive? and… why on earth do I do it? From here on out I am going to be brutally honest about my life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I get a lot of emails – from people of all ages and from all walks of life – who are genuinely thinking about following in my barely-there footsteps, wanting to know the next steps to take. I fully applaud anyone who is brave enough to consider quitting their day job to pursue something that they are passionate about, but first I think it’s only fair to give a realistic account of this lifestyle away from the fluffy, filtered stuff that you see on social media. Read the rest of this post »
In my second year at the University of Manchester I studied parasitology, and the terrifying images of dramatic lesions and extreme elephantiasis are burnt vividly into my memory. Of course, I never considered that one day I would become one of those horror stories. In July I was diagnosed with a tropical flesh-eating parasite called Leishmaniasis, and for the past 10 weeks I have been battling to regain my health. We never fully appreciate how lucky we are to be healthy, and unfortunately I learnt this lesson the hard way.