Sloth Genetics – the final push!

02 Apr

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.



Regardless of whether the observed deformities are due to habitat fragmentation or pesticides, one thing remains glaringly obvious – this is not a problem that will fix itself. In fact, with the human population booming to unprecedented levels, the problem is growing rapidly worse. In the 11 months since my previous campaign ended, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica have received an additional two deformed baby sloths, and the Jaguar Rescue Center have recently received their first orphaned juvenile showing partial albinism. Perhaps most concerning though is an email that I received from the Panamanian Government. They were requesting our help because of the sheer number of deformed baby sloths being found in their Cerro Ancón reserve:


fundraiser email
In short, if we want to mitigate this problem, we must act now.

At the end of last year we were able to export the 300 hair samples and they are currently all sat in Swansea University awaiting microsatellite analysis. Although our initial fundraiser did budget for the laboratory costs of genetic analysis, the field work turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. A lot of this is due to the amount of time, resources and equipment that it took to achieve such a large sample size, but also due to the overseen fees that we had to pay to complete the work. Thankfully, we don’t need much more in order to complete the project, and $5000 will cover everything.

Budget breakdown:

$450 – DNA extraction kit
$1150 – Labelled primers
$600 – Microsatellite amplification kit
$2000 – Running the samples
$500 – Indiegogo / PayPal / Credit card fees and perk fulfilment
$300 – Research publication fees

It is frustrating to know that after all of our hard work to collect the samples we need in order to understand this problem, they are now sat in a freezer at Swansea University – and it is just the final injection of funds that is standing in our way.



I am currently running a new campaign on Indiegogo to fund the completion of this research. If you would like to help, you can donate online here:

100% of the funds raised from this campaign will go towards purchasing the necessary laboratory consumables to allow the microsatellite analysis of the collected sloth hair samples. Following the completion of this fundraiser, I will be happy to upload a full spending report outlining everything that was purchased using the funds raised.

If you can donate any amount, no matter how big or small, it will be a step towards our goal – every single dollar counts. With your help, I passionately believe that we can make a positive impact to the conservation of sloths throughout Central and South America. Together we have the chance to really make a difference.

You can also help by sharing the campaign page with as many people as possible.

Thank you for your support!

Posted in: Sloths
Share this post: