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The Sloth Conservation Foundation

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The Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo) was founded in 2016 by sloth researcher Dr. Becky Cliffe and is dedicated to saving sloths in the wild.

Dr. Cliffe has worked extensively in the field with sloths for over 10 years, conducting field research and publishing numerous scientific papers into the ecology, biology, genetics and physiology of sloths in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Brazil. Throughout this period, she has witnessed first-hand the array of rapidly increasing problems being faced by wild sloth populations. SloCo was founded with the determination to stimulate progressive change and achieve lasting solutions through research and conservation initiatives.

Sloths are the ultimate creatures of habit. They are perfectly adapted for life high up in the canopy of tropical rainforests where they have little need to ever descend to the ground. However, the rainforest habitat that the sloths depend on is becoming more and more disturbed. Roads, farms, towns and cities now dominate the landscape, cutting the once continuous forest into smaller and more isolated segments. The sloths simply cannot adapt to this rapidly changing environment.

Saving these incredible animals from extinction therefore requires innovative and long-term conservation solutions that will target both the human and sloth populations, with the goal of developing sustainable ways in which humans and sloths can coexist.

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SloCo has developed a range of strategies and programs which aim to achieve this objective in Costa Rica. These range from increasing habitat connectivity in urban areas to educating children in local communities and conducting high quality scientific research into many different aspects of sloth biology and ecology.

The Sloth Conservation Foundation is a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation in the UK (Registered Charity Number 1170992).

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What We Do

  • Insulating power lines – Sloths climb on the electricity lines to travel between trees in urban areas, and the cables are very poorly insulated. There are more than 3000 wildlife electrocutions every single year in Costa Rica and over half of the electrocuted animals are sloths. The survival rate following an electrocution is only about 25%. We fund the raw materials needed to insulate power lines in Costa Rica and we work with the electricity company to install the insulations.
  • Saving sloths by sterilising dogs – Domestic and stray dog attacks are now the second leading cause of death for sloths in Costa Rica. Rapid development of the rainforest means that the connectivity between neighbouring trees is being lost and the sloths are forced to travel around on the ground. A sloth on the ground has no defence against a dog! We spay and neuter stray dogs in Costa Rica with the aim of reducing the overall number of uncontrolled dogs roaming freely that might attack sloths. We also teach responsible pet ownership skills to local communities.
  • Bridging the gap – Without a natural or artificial canopy bridge, the only way for a sloth to cross a road is by crawling on the ground. This takes a lot of time and energy and they often get hit by cars when the driver does not see the sloth in the road. We build and install specialized ‘sloth crossing’ canopy bridges to connect forest fragments in disturbed areas. These bridges give sloths and other wildlife a safe way to travel across roads and through urban areas without having to risk traveling on the ground.
  • Educating the next generation – We work with local children through our education outreach programs to encourage the protection rather than the exploitation of wildlife. During each workshop the children are taught about the biology of sloths, the importance of the ecosystem, the challenges that sloths are facing and how they can help.
  • Responsible tourism campaigns – Sloths are not poached for food or body parts, but they are poached to feed the ever-growing demand for hands-on wildlife encounters. Baby sloths are ripped away from mom in the wild and are exploited as tourist attractions until they die – and then they are replaced. Sloths are now the number 1 victims of the global “wildlife selfie trade”. We are promoting responsible “sloth tourism” in high tourist areas throughout Costa Rica by establishing permanent signage and providing information materials in local businesses and hotels. We also coordinate international online campaigns to raise awareness of the ‘wildlife selfie’ and illegal pet trade markets.
  • Habitat restoration and protection – Sloths in Costa Rica are frequently being born with genetic abnormalities. These include 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. Our research has shown that this is likely due to inbreeding from habitat loss. We are restoring and protecting critical sloth habitats through reforestation (with tree species favoured by sloths) and the creation of biological corridors and protected forest reserves. The trees are grown in our forest nursery and we work with the local community to plant the saplings in key areas. We provide training and signage to ensure that the community know how to care for the trees and ensure their survival.
  • Research – In order to develop and implement any good conservation strategy, a solid scientific knowledge of the sloth’s ecological requirements is necessary. For this reason, we fund, coordinate and publish high quality research into many different aspects of sloth biology and ecology. Our current research efforts focus on: sloth behaviour and how this is influenced by the environment, the population genetics of sloths in Costa Rica and the survival of hand-reared orphan sloths post-release.

If you are interested in supporting sloth conservation efforts, please do not hesitate to contact Becky for more information.