I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported our original campaign to fund essential research into sloth genetics – we hit our $5000 target within 12 days! Because we still have 6 weeks left before the campaign ends, I have decided to take this opportunity to fund raise for the future of sloth conservation. I have been living, breathing, and working with sloths for 6 years now, and although I have met many passionate people along the way who are all dedicating their lives to protecting these wonderful animals, I believe that there is something very important missing: unity.
The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica have now received 9 orphaned baby sloths showing birth defects. The affected sloths were all C.hoffmanni infants originating from the Limon province on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. The deformities have all been strikingly similar; missing fingers/toes, malformed ears, misshapen limbs and partial or full albinism. High numbers of birth defects like this in any population are a warning sign that something is seriously wrong. I suspect that the deformities we are seeing are the direct result of either extensive habitat fragmentation, or the excessive use of pesticides for agriculture. However, before we can develop any targeted conservation strategies, we have to identify and fully understand the root cause of the problem – and that means completing the necessary genetic research.
You might remember that last year I ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund urgent research into the genetic health of wild sloth populations. As a result, I was able to collect data and hair samples from over 300 wild-born sloths (both two-fingered C.hoffmanni and three-fingered B.variegatus) originating from over 97 different regions in Costa Rica. This is a far larger sample size than has ever been studied before and it will undoubtedly provide us with the answers that we need. Unfortunately, however, I once again need to ask for your help in order to complete the final stage of this urgent research.
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.
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?
For almost 6 years I have been working and living in the remote jungles of Costa Rica studying a rare and ancient species, the sloth. Although these years have undoubtedly been the best of my life, it has often been far from glamorous. I have contracted a flesh eating parasite, had emergency surgery in a third world bus station (complete with scurrying invertebrates) and been at the center of an international incident in Panama. I have survived being stranded on a true desert island, watched everything I own grow mouldy (including my hair) and come face to face with crocodiles, poisonous snakes and the worlds most venomous spider. I crowd-funded $110,000 for sloth research, made an award winning TV series with The Discovery Channel, learned to scale primitive jungle trees and permanently lost sensation in my finger because a sloth squeezed it too vigorously. Now, as I pack my bags and prepare to move my life (and my failed scat-detection dog) back to England for a while, I know that I am going to miss this strange place that has somehow become my home. I have made friends that will last a lifetime, discovered a whole new appreciation for nature, and most of all, I have learnt to trust in EWOP – to trust that Everything Works Out Perfectly.
“There’s nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway.” To say that I’ve been busy recently would be an understatement. After five and a half years of studying sloths, the more I learn – the more questions I have. I have been juggling a lot of new research with ongoing projects, and there are many more bubbling on the horizon. Here’s a little sneak peak into some of the work that has been keeping me so busy. Read the rest of this post »