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.
One of the primary aims of the Sloth Backpack Project is to understand how female sloths raise their babies, with the hope of developing a successful release program for hand-reared orphans at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. Since beginning the backpack project, I have been lucky enough to tag two female sloths that were nursing babies (first Madonna, and then ApplePie). Unfortunately, both babies died before reaching independence. This was a huge disappointment and a major set-back for my research. Now, as I stared at this baby sloth, I was completely stumped. This baby looked too young to be alone, yet he was perfectly content sitting there on a branch. Why was he alone? Where was his mother? Had he been abandoned or just weaned?
We decided to get him down and give him a health check, just to make sure that he was OK. Despite weighing only 1.42 kg, he was in perfect health – bright eyes, great skin, a full stomach and lots of strength. We can only assume that he had just been weaned from his mother and was in the process of finding his independence! A baby sloth will usually stay with its mother for a full year following birth, and so it remains a bit of a mystery why this little sloth was alone so young. We took the decision to release him back into the forest equipped with a tiny tracking backpack, allowing us to monitor his progress and ensure his safety. This will also provide us with valuable information about how baby sloths learn to establish a home range and adapt to a solitary life after being weaned.
This surprising little sloth was named Bojangles, and I am happy to report that so far so good! Following his release, Bojangles made his way up through a network of vines and settled down in a dense area of the canopy – and there he remains! It is always difficult spotting my tagged sloths as they camouflage so well, but spotting a tiny baby sloth amongst the canopy is a whole new challenge!
7 months ago I was fortunate enough to tag a female sloth carrying a baby – this was Apple and Pie (you can read their story here). After 3 months, I found Apple without her baby and we all assumed that she had lost him. Now, coincidentally, I found Bojangles within Apples home-range, in one of her favourite feeding trees. Furthermore, Bojangles looks identical to baby Pie. Could this actually be the same sloth? Perhaps Apple didn’t lose Pie after all? But why did he disappear from her chest so suddenly? Or maybe this is just a huge coincidence. The only way we will ever know the answer to this mystery is by doing genetic tests. We are in the planning stages of a study into sloth population genetics, and so this is definitely on the agenda for the future!
We will keep you updated on his progress, and hopefully he will continue to surprise us!