Dr. Becky Cliffe is is a British zoologist, one of the worlds leading experts in sloths and the founder/executive director of the Sloth Conservation Foundation. Through her PhD at Swansea University, Becky spearheaded the longest recorded study into wild sloth ecology through The Sloth Backpack Project, and has since expanded her work to encompass many different aspects of sloth biology and physiology. Although her areas of research are broad, Becky’s work has always been focused around one central goal: helping sloths – whether that is through the improvement of rehabilitation programs or by tackling the problems that sloths are facing in the wild. Now, as the results of her work are finally emerging, she wants to make sure that collectively we are able to utilize the findings to make a positive, lasting difference.
Becky found herself fascinated by the natural world at a very young age and much of her childhood was spent outdoors, searching for weird and wonderful creatures to add to her various ‘bug boxes’. This fascination really became apparent at the tender age of seven, when she proudly presented her parents with the rotting remains of a dead squirrel and pleaded with them to find out why it had died. Needless to say, they quickly realised she was a budding biologist in the making.
As her passion for wildlife grew, she left the squirrel behind and began studying zoology at the University of Manchester. During this time she became intrigued by the unusual and poorly understood biology of sloths. Following this interest, she began a 12 month research placement at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica where she studied the activity budgets, thermoregulation, diets and oestrous cycles of three-fingered sloths. Under the guidance of sanctuary founder Judy Avey-Arroyo, she quickly discovered that there was a substantial lack of scientific data for sloths and this was causing considerable problems for the conservation of the species. After graduating from Manchester in 2012 with a first class honours degree, Becky returned to the jungles of Costa Rica where she spent the next 6 years coordinating an in-depth study into the ecology, physiology and genetics of wild sloth populations.
Her primary investigation (the ‘Sloth Backpack Project’) focuses on identifying the diet, habitat preference, ranging patterns and energy budgets of wild two and three-fingered sloths. With generous help from the public, Becky raised $93,879 in 60 days through the ‘Save Our Sloths‘ campaign to fund the necessary data loggers and tracking equipment to complete this project and develop a release program allowing hand-reared sloths to be returned to the wild. She has since completed several additional fundraisers in order to carry out genetic research to determine why there is such a high incidence of birth defects being observed in wild sloth populations. She believes the genetic problems are being caused by the rampant use of pesticides sprayed on fruit crops combined with a loss of habitat which has potentially resulted in inbreeding. Alongside this work, Becky is also running multiple additional research projects looking at the metabolic rate, energetic requirements and physiology of both wild and captive sloths in Costa Rica and Panama.
In 2016, Becky founded the Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo): a registered non-profit organisation that is dedicated to saving sloths in the wild through research and conservation initiatives. SloCo aims to bring together all people, partners, and institutions working globally with sloths to achieve lasting conservation solutions. Founded on the idea that every single person has the ability to make a positive difference, the Sloth Conservation Foundation aims to stimulate progressive change through the education of local communities and lobbying for change at a government level. The organisation is focused on inspiring individuals to care about sloths, to protect the rainforest ecosystem and to safeguard a future for the planet that we all share.
Since she has been working with sloths, Becky has featured in the award winning documentary ‘Meet the Sloths’ & ‘Too cute! Baby Sloths‘ for Animal Planet, was a major contributor for the eight episode Discovery Channel series “Meet the Sloths’ which aired in November 2013, and she has featured in ‘Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin‘. She regularly gives lectures and public talks about her work and the trials of living a remote jungle for 6 years (including being infected with a flesh eating parasite). Becky has featured in and been commissioned to write for numerous international publications and media outlets, including BBC Wildlife Magazine, Ranger Rick, BBC Earth, Daily Mail, Canada AM, Daily Planet and Spick Magazine.
Publications, Media and Popular Links
- Cliffe, R.N. (2016) Sloths aren’t lazy – their slowness is a survival skill. The Conversation, 19th August
- Cliffe, R. N., Haupt, R. J., Avey-Arroyo, J. A., & Wilson, R. P. (2015). Sloths like it hot: ambient temperature modulates food intake in the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus). PeerJ, 3, e875.
- Cliffe, R. N., Avey-Arroyo, J. A., Arroyo, F. J., Holton, M. D., & Wilson, R. P. (2014). Mitigating the squash effect: sloths breathe easily upside down. Biology letters, 10(4), 20140172.
- Cliffe, R. N. (2012) Sloths: Life in the slow lane. The Biological Sciences Review, volume 25, issue 2.
- Cliffe, R. N. (2012) what it’s like to study Zoology. The Independent, 18th September.
- Ishibashi, S., Cliffe, R., & Amaya, E. (2012) Highly efficient bi-allelic mutation rates using TALENs in Xenopus tropicalis. Biology Open,0,1 – 4. doi:10.1242/bio.20123228.
- ‘Meet the Sloths’ documentary, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel: Winner of the UWE Popular Broadcast award at the 2012 Wildscreen Festival.
- ‘Meet the Sloths’ Television series, Discovery Channel and BBC worldwide.
- Inside Pulse: Murtz Jaffer
- Animalist: Life of a Sloth Biologist
- Animal Planet: Extended Interview
- BBC Wildlife
- Tico Times
- Spick Magazine
- BBC Earth
- Ranger Rick
- Swansea University
- Earth Touch
- Wales Online
- Huffington Post report
- Deutsche Welle interview (Germany)
- The Free Library interview
- Reddit AMA
- Manchester University interview
- Why Evolution is True
- Save Our Sloths fundraiser
- Ladies What… report
- Scientific American