Being the slowest animal on the earth comes with challenges, and as humans tend to interfere more and more with the sloth’s natural territory the slow life becomes even more challenging. Below we have listed the greatest threats for the sloths in Costa Rica and what can be done to help.
The number one threat to sloth populations in Costa Rica is habitat loss. These animals rely on the rainforest to survive and need a dense forest to be able to physically move around. But humans are continuing to cut down trees and forest fragmentation leaves the sloths vulnerable. To solve this, restoring and protection of sloth habitat is critical. This includes reforestation, creating biological corridors and protecting forest reserves.
With urbanization more powerlines have appeared all over the world. Around 3000 animals are electrocuted every year in Costa Rica and the survival rate is only about 25% following an electrocution. Over 50% of the electrocuted animals each year are sloths. If they survive, they’re often in crucial need of care and amputation on limbs. This issue can be stopped with insulated powerlines and electrical transformers.
In Costa Rica more and more sloths are being born with birth defects and genetic abnormalities, including missing fingers and toes, malformed ears, misshapen limbs and albinism. The increasing number of birth defects is a warning sign that something must be done. The suspicion is that these deformities are the result of extensive habitat fragmentation or an excessive use of pesticides. But this issue requires further research to find a solution for the problem at hand.
Because of the growing urban development, trees are being cut down; this forces the sloths to travel on the ground or using powerlines. But now their numbers are rapidly dropping in Costa Rica, even though they should be the most abundant large mammals in a healthy rainforest. To resolve this, the protection and restoration of habitat is needed. Planting trees, building artificial wildlife bridges and making sure all new development projects are done in a way that causes minimal damage to animals and the environment.
The venture across roads is fatal for these slow animals. But the loss of natural and artificial canopy bridges forces them to crawl across the roads instead. While on the road, sloths are often exposed to dog attacks, traffic collisions or human encounters. Building ‘sloth crossings’, or artificial canopy bridges, connecting trees on either side of the roads where sloths are commonly found is a solution to the problem.
Tourism and illegal trade
Sloths are, at an alarming rate, being taken and sold for photos and interactions with tourists. They are the number one victim of this phenomenon causing a lot of stress and anxiety for the animals. Most of the sloths held captive die within three to six months. This issue needs raised awareness, such as education about what people should do if they see a sloth being offered for photos or holding. Working with local businesses, hotels and restaurants to provide information on the issues. Educating locals, especially children, and encouraging them to protect wildlife.
Domestic and stray dogs attack sloths to the point that it is now the second leading cause of death for wild sloths in Costa Rica. During normal circumstances, sloths shouldn’t be the prey of dogs, since they usually live in the treetops. However, because they are forced to the ground they are at great risk of being killed. In addition to the ‘sloth crossing bridges’ to help them stay off the ground, solutions to this challenge are working with local dog shelters in decreasing the number of stray dogs and educating pet owners about the problem.
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