Maria Nila, together with The Perfect World Foundation, joined forces this year to help our tree-dwelling friends, the sloths at The Sloth Institute of Costa Rica. The name “sloth” originally comes from the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian teachings, where they’re often described as lazy and slow. But modern sloths are the descendants of some of the oldest mammals on earth and very complex creatures. Throughout history there have been several different types of sloths, adapted to life in water, on mountains, and in caves. 

Nowadays these lethargic characters mainly reside in South and Central America and spend 15 to 20 hours per day sleeping. They have an incredibly low metabolism and spend most of their time munching on leaves and hanging from tree branches. Even though they are slow on land, like their ancestors, they are great swimmers and will occasionally drop into the water for a bath. 

There are six species of sloths divided into two different categories: the two-fingered sloth, and three-fingered sloth. They fit into the category Xenarthra, mammals known for their unique joints in their backbone, with few or no teeth and small brains. Armadillos and anteaters also fall into this order. Today, two of six sloth species are considered threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List.   

Deforestation & urbanization 

The health of the sloth population depends on the health of the tropical rainforest. And as deforestation continues, the sloths are losing both their homes and their food. This has led them to descend from the treetops where they usually reside, making them an easy prey for other species, car strikes and poaching. 

As they move out from the treetops, they come closer to humans. Unadapted to urbanization the sloth frequently is found using powerlines to move around, causing electrocutions. They have a low chance of surviving electrocutions, and if they do, they’re often in need of care, including limb amputations. Furthermore, as vast expanses of forest are being cleared, the different species have seen a significant population genetic reduction, known as the bottleneck effect.  

Deforestation of the tropical rainforest is of particular concern since these are home to a large part of the world’s biodiversity. Over half of the animal species in the world call the rainforests their home. Despite covering less than 7% of the Earth’s land surface, rainforests are called “the Lungs of Our Planet” due to them producing a large share of our oxygen and playing a vital role in reducing pollution. 

Tourism & illegal trade 

The portrayal of sloths in movies, documentaries and videos as cute and soft is also a threat to the species. this perception of the animal has led to illegal trade and high fatality for the sloth, where roughly 80 to 90% of trafficked sloths die. slots are fragile creatures, and when stressed, it affects their respiratory and digestive system.

Newborn slots are often violently separated from their mothers abused and kept in overcrowded environments their long nails are usually cut to prevent them from injuring humans, but this prevents them from performing their main activity, hanging from trees. Newborn slots are frequently found malnourished and dehydrated because of inadequate care. apart from illegal trade they are often displayed for tourists to interact with. This harmful business prevents many slots from returning to a life in the wild, as they lose vital survival instincts, which they learn from their mothers. If released into the wild they would be easy targets for predators and unable to fend for themselves.

Read more about the greatest threats for sloths: https://marianila.com/blog/the-7-greatest-threats-to-sloths-in-the-costa-rica-and-what-can-be-done-to-help/

Read more about The Sloth Institute of Costa Rica and the two sloths, Gorgie & Gordita, that we will follow on their journey to life in freedom: https://marianila.com/blog/the-sloth-institute-baby-gorgu-baby-gordita/