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Tackling the two-fingered sloth

28 Jan

Since beginning the Sloth Backpack Project in 2013, I have been desperately trying to tag a wild two-fingered sloth – but a combination of equipment failures, injuries and escapee-sloths stood in my way. I finally managed to do this in November, although it was no easy task!

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Sloth Science in 2015

22 Jan

Although 2014 got off to a great start, it unfortunately didn’t end that way. The last few months before Christmas were plagued with disappointments, equipment failures and flesh-eating parasites - but as I have come to learn, that’s science! Things rarely work out as planned, and we have to be flexible in order to find creative solutions to unexpected problems as they arise. In November alone I had 4 backpacks fail due to technical issues, one completely disappeared overnight and the VHF transmitter on another died leaving me unable to track that sloth and his backpack full of data. Thankfully, since the beginning of 2015 things are finally looking up.

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The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica just received their fifth baby sloth showing severe birth defects. This baby was found on Isla Uvita; a tiny island off the coast of mainland Costa Rica covering just 0.8 km². This uninhabited island was previously thought to be too small to support a viable sloth population, however the discovery of this little baby proves otherwise. This special little sloth was called Onesie: he has only one finger and one toe on each hand and foot. Unfortunately, Onesie is not an isolated case – the incidence of congenital disorders in the wild sloth population appears to be increasing, and we want to do something about it. Click here to help us!

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Bojangles making his way up to the canopy after being released with a tiny tracking Sloth Backpack

Mr Bojangles

03 Oct

Over the past 10 weeks I have been battling to regain my health after being diagnosed with Leishmaniasis – and as a result, progress with the Sloth Backpack Project has been somewhat slow. This week my luck finally changed, and for the first time in a long time I was able to return to the jungle. As I was searching to locate my tagged sloths, I stumbled across something extraordinary. There was what appeared to be a baby three-fingered sloth, quietly sitting about 5 meters off the ground. He didn’t look to be more than 8 months old, yet he was completely alone.

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The leishmaniasis lesion on my arm over 10 weeks. Image 1 shows the small hole before diagnosis, image 6 is following the biopsy, image 10 shows the lesion beginning to heal and the abscess developing, and image 15 is how my arm looks today.

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.

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This year got off to a great start, with tracking backpacks being deployed on 4 wild sloths during January and February (I introduced these sloths in a previous blog: Burrito, Star, Pancake and Apple/Pie). Unfortunately, we find that far too much research focuses on achieving the largest sample size possible, yet fails to study individual animals for long enough to understand their patterns of behavior. This is particularly important for sloths as everything happens so slowly! It can take an individual up to 30 days to digest one leaf, so you can imagine how much time is needed to document the complete diet of just one sloth. For this reason, I have spent the past 8 months intensely following the 4 sloths that I tagged with backpacks at the start of this year and getting to know their individual habits. This time has also allowed me to perfect the harness design and iron out any faults with the backpack-tagging process. As a result of this, I am excited to announce that we are finally ready to expand the project and there are exciting plans for the next few months.

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