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 »
I began 2015 with a strong feeling that this was going to be a great year, and so far it’s turning out to be true. The Sloth Backpack Project is really beginning to pick up speed and I have a lot of exciting new sloth research underway.
The Pygmy sloths of Panama are considered to be one of the worlds most critically endangered mammals with the last official population count identifying only 79 individuals (Kaviar et al. 2011). Beyond the original description of the species we still know almost nothing about these little sloths with scientific rigour. We don’t know how many of them remain, we don’t know enough about their diet and habitat needs, we don’t understand when and how they reproduce, and we still don’t really know why and how they became dwarfed on their small island. Now, after months of working with the Panamanian government, I am delighted to have finally been granted permission to conduct research on the genetics, ecology and evolutionary history of the pygmy sloths in collaboration with biologist Sam Kaviar and paeleoecologist Ryan Haupt. If you would like to help us complete this work, please check out our campaign page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-the-critically-endangered-pygmy-sloths