The Sloth Conservation Foundation
Brown-Throated Sloths in Costa Rica
Due to their highly specialized tree-canopy lifestyle, sloths do not adapt well to environmental change. Hazards such as power line electrocutions, dog attacks, road traffic collisions, genetic isolation and human poaching mean their numbers in the wild are quickly decreasing.
Saving these incredible and charismatic animals from extinction requires innovative and long-term conservation solutions that will target both human and sloth populations. The Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo) is a registered non-profit organization that aims to develop sustainable ways in which humans and sloths can coexist. They are working to achieve this objective in Costa Rica through the development and implementation of a range of strategies and programs. The donation portion of your Socks for Animals subscription will be used towards any one of these strategies to protect the brown-throated sloth in Costa Rica:
Insulating power lines.
In Costa Rica, there are more than 3,000 recorded wildlife electrocutions every single year, and as a result, the country is thought to have lost approximately 50% of its arboreal mammal populations. Over half of the electrocuted animals are sloths, and the mortality rate following an electrocution is about 70%. SloCo is funding the raw materials necessary to insulate the existing electricity lines, poles and transformers by providing grants to affiliated organizations. They are currently supporting the ‘Shock Free Zone’ program launched by the Jaguar Rescue Center, and as of December 2018, they have funded the insulation of 25 electrical transformers in the South Caribbean.
Sloth crossings and canopy connectivity.
After power line electrocutions, the biggest threats to the survival of wild sloths in Costa Rica are dog attacks and traffic collisions. Both occurrences stem from people disturbing or fragmenting sloth habitat. Sloths cannot run, jump or swing across gaps between trees, therefore, a fragmented rainforest forces sloths to descend to the floor and crawl across the ground where they are extremely vulnerable to dogs, cars and humans. Sloths inherit highly specific home-ranges, and are unable to adapt by moving to a new area when faced with habitat disturbance. Furthermore, their slow movement and limited energy supply means they are unable to travel along the road to find a place where there is safe crossing. Sloths will only cross the road in the exact place where they need to cross, and it will be the same place every time for a particular individual.
Taking the above into account, SloCo has used public surveys to identify key areas along the South Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where sloths regularly cross the road, and are constructing ‘sloth crossing’ canopy bridges to connect the trees on either side.
In additions, SloCo is currently working with local businesses and property owners to encourage an increase in canopy connectivity and reforestation. Their latest of such programs was launched in 2019, and they are already working with over 25 property owners in the South Caribbean to help make urban areas safer for sloths.
Education outreach programs in local communities.
In 2018, SloCo launched their education outreach program working to connect children to nature. The program’s goal is to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to identify environmental challenges in their communities related to the conservation of sloths and the rainforest ecosystem. SloCo works with local schools to educate children about the biology of sloths, the importance of the ecosystem, the challenges that sloths are facing and how they can help.
International education programs: poaching for the sloth pet trade and tourist sloth “selfies.”
Sloths are commonly taken from the wild and exhibited by the side of the road to attract tourists and their money. Tourists are charged to take a photo, or to “rescue” the animal. In 2018, SloCo established permanent signage in high tourist areas to promote responsible “sloth tourism,” and they are working with local hotels and businesses to provide information on the problems that sloths are facing. To help influence and change the mindset of future generations, SloCo also uses social media campaigns, blogs, and their own international education materials to highlight the negative effects of the illegal sloth pet trade.
Returning sloths to the wild.
There is still a lot to be discovered about how to raise orphaned sloths in rescue centers with the necessary survival skills to be released into the wild. With the increase in sloths arriving at rescue centers, and the rapidly growing conservation concern for the species, it is imperative that a standard protocol is established that enables organizations to achieve the optimal welfare outcome for each individual sloth. In order to do this, SloCo has launched a long-term collaborative study to monitor and document the survival of radio-collared, hand-reared sloths after being released from the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica. They have purchased 11 new VHF tracking collars, and are currently working on building a custom sloth “soft-release” enclosure.