I research sloths at the world’s only Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica and I am here to answer all of the sloth questions you can possibly throw at me!

I am also currently running the Save Our Sloths campaign to raise enough funds to develop a release program at the sanctuary and return orphaned baby sloths to the wild. We have so far collected over $40,000 to make this happen, but we still need your help. Please check out the Save Our Sloths campaign page on Indiegogo for more information: http://igg.me/at/saveoursloths

We are just finishing filming for an 8 episode Discovery Channel series at the Sloth Sanctuary that will be aired towards the end of this year - so if you love sloths, keep an eye out!

Proof (with a sloth, of course): http://imgur.com/ihiXJPi Tweet: https://twitter.com/beckycliffe06/status/347755292257308672/photo/1

Update: This has been great fun but I have to get going now, the sloths are calling me! I will continue answering your questions over the next couple of days so keep checking back….

Comments: 145 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

ElderCunningham49 karma

What's a slow day at work like?

SaveOurSloths34 karma

Great question! Rainy days tend to be the slowest days at the sloth sanctuary – sloths are very unusual in that they don’t have any control over their body temperature! So when it’s cold and rainy (we are in the rainforest so by ‘cold’ I mean like 74°F…) the sloths tend to sleep even more than usual! On these days, there really isn’t a great deal to do!

beenit21 karma

hello, becky! so happy to see you're doing this AMA, as well as the research you're conducting at the sanctuary. i volunteered at the sanctuary back in august/september 2012. (proof: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beenit/). such an extraordinary experience!

may i ask ... how is mowgli? tuffy? wall-e? velcro? becca?

SaveOurSloths23 karma

Mowgli, Tuffy, Wall-E, Velcro and the wonderful Becca are all doing great! Wall-E still loves to go out for daily walks, and Velcro still clings on just like a piece of Velcro…. It would be great to see you back here one day!

gingershminger13 karma

[deleted]

SaveOurSloths17 karma

I began by studying Zoology at the University of Manchester (UK) and if I am honest, I never really thought I would end up living at a sloth sanctuary. One of my professors at university was good friends with Judy (the founder of the Sloth Sanctuary) and he managed to get me on a 12 month research placement out here. Because nothing is really known about sloths and no one else really seems to be studying them in detail, my research project turned into a huge success. The rest is history! I am now back out here running a long-term research project on wild sloths for my PhD with the hope of developing a release program for the sanctuaries hand-reared babies! Unfortunately the sanctuaries volunteer program is ending next month to allow us to focus on the research and release program - but we would love to welcome you here for a tour and you can still meet the sloths :-)

Frajer11 karma

Can I hug a sloth?

SaveOurSloths27 karma

Sloths might look like they give amazing hugs, but they are wild animals and they don't actually enjoy being hugged that much... they would much rather sit quietly in a tree and watch everything going on below at their own pace!

notsoquikslvr11 karma

When meeting a sloth for the first time, is boo the correct greeting?

SaveOurSloths11 karma

I LOVE this question! I can't say that Boo would be inappropriate since Sir David Attenborough famously did that! Interestingly, he filmed that scene here at the Sloth Sanctuary with one of our captive residents!

I can however suggest a more appropriate greeting to attract one's attention! Sloths a very tuned in to high pitched noises, so if you were to whistle in front of a sloth, I can guarantee he would turn to face you :-)

amandajreynolds9 karma

Have you ever seen someone attacked by a sloth?

SaveOurSloths14 karma

Amazingly, no! A sloth would never actually chose to attack anyone (or anything)! If they are threatened, they will hold very still and hope that whatever it is gets bored and leaves them alone. Their last line of defense would be to bite - but they give you plenty of warning before resorting to this! I do know someone who once got bitten on the chin by a sloth, but i can guarantee that this was entirely his own fault...

FreeTheFabFivePlz7 karma

When do you anticipate sloth intelligence surpassing humans and becoming our new over lords? I for one would welcome our new sloth masters

SaveOurSloths19 karma

I think sloths are already, in some ways, more intelligent than us! They don't stress, they have to worry about having the latest smart phone, they happily eat their greens and won't be upset if they have to share their favorite tree branch with another sloth - how intelligent is that! I doubt they would really want the stress of being our over lords with all of our rushing around... :-)

satanic_badgers7 karma

Do you feel guilty supporting one of Gods deadly sins?

SaveOurSloths5 karma

Well we prefer to use the term sloWth rather than sloth, as these amazing animals are deliberately slow, not lazy :-)

Salacious-7 karma

If I told you that I hated sloths, what is the cutest anecdote you have that would make me change my mind?

SaveOurSloths9 karma

Sloths are without a doubt the cutest animals on the planet! They don’t produce any body odour (so always smell lovely), they are gentle peace-loving animals and have a permanent smile - what’s not to love about that!

moomooguy26 karma

What is your favorite sloth at the sanctuary and why?

SaveOurSloths16 karma

I guess I shouldn't really have a favorite, but I do! She is called Feliz and she was one of the study sloths in my very first research project here at the sanctuary. I measured numerous things including her body temperature, respiration rate and activity level every 4 hours for 12 months, so we spent a lot of time together! This was 3 years ago now, but when I walk past her enclosure she still comes down to the entrance to say hello!

[deleted]6 karma

What is your pay like? I dont mean to be rude, but my dream job is to be a vet and would love to travel around to help. But I don't have a lot of excess money so i wonder how feasible traveling and volunteering would be.

SaveOurSloths10 karma

I don't get payed! I am given food and accommodation at the sanctuary and other than that I pretty much live off my savings. I was given a bit of money from Discovery Channel for the upcoming series, so that has kept me alive this year.

akerbaker6 karma

Is a sloth's behavior as adorable as they look

SaveOurSloths11 karma

Perhaps my favorite thing in the world is sloth watching - their behaviors complement their adorable looks perfectly. I find that it is impossible to be stressed whilst watching a sloth go about it's business.

dancepantz5 karma

What are we saving the sloths from? What are their biggest threats right now?

SaveOurSloths12 karma

Strangely, we are saving the sloths from ourselves! They don't have many natural predators left anymore (Harpy eagles and jaguars) but us humans are causing them quite a lot of problems. Habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade are two of the most serious issues that sloths are facing. Two species are critically endangered, and it is estimated that the pygmy sloth in Panama is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet with less than 100 individuals left! The sloths need saving!

katarokkar5 karma

I got engaged at the Sloth Sanctuary! I'm also the one who convinced you to do this. Alright here comes my question...

What are some of the latest behavioral discoveries you've made with the sloth?

I remember talking with Judy about how little is known about these animals, and that we are just now learning about their mannerisms.

Also tell Jeff that Shawn and Jess say hi. I'll be sending Beef Jerky to him shortly.

SaveOurSloths6 karma

Jeff is here with me now and says hello! Well we have actually found out a lot of amazing stuff recently about wild sloths. Because they are so unstudied, we are making new findings very quickly!

One of the most notable things is that two-fingered sloths engage in a phenomenon called Geophagy. This is basically dirt eating! We don't know why yet but a lot of leaf-eating animals are known to do this, usually at very specific clay licks that are rich in minerals. Interestingly, sloths are doing this when they come down to the ground to poo! It is probably a method of neutralizing toxins from their diet.

jwshapir5 karma

I have always been fascinated by the eating pattern, and the metabolic system of the Sloth. How may of those adorable creature reside there?

SaveOurSloths10 karma

The sanctuary has rescued over 500 sloths of both families, many of which have been rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Unfortunately, because we still don't know enough about how sloths survive in their natural habitat, nobody has ever managed to successfully reintroduce a hand-reared sloth into the wild. The sanctuary currently provides a permanent home for 150 sloths, the majority of which arrived as orphaned babies and required hand-rearing. Through our research program, we are working towards understanding exactly how sloths raise their babies and pass on the essential survival skills - fingers (and toes) crossed we will soon be trialing a release program and many of the sanctuary's permanent residents can be returned to the wild where they belong.

We are currently fundraising to buy the GPS tracking equipment that will allow this to happen - see here for more information on how you can help us: http://igg.me/at/saveoursloths

fusfeimyol5 karma

If someone were interested in interacting with a sloth one day, how could they go about doing that? Where is the best place to go?

SaveOurSloths7 karma

You can come here to the sanctuary and meet our resident sloths, but unfortunately we don't allow people to hold them. Being handled is incredibly stressful for the sloths since this is not a natural behavior for them and as we all have their best interests at heart, we decided that this wasn't the best idea.

You can however get a good look at both types of sloth here at the sanctuary, and there is honestly no better feeling than the moment when you make eye contact with a tiny baby sloth for the first time!

sushib894 karma

Where did you do your degree? what was it like? Whats the most enjoyable thing about working with sloths? Have you ever seen a sloth fall out of a tree from trying to grab its own limbs?

SaveOurSloths6 karma

In all my hours spent working with sloths, I have honestly never seen a sloth mistake it's own arm for a tree branch! They are very intelligent and deliberate animals, so the only time they fall is when fighting for a mate or if the entire tree falls down....

justin_MC4 karma

Say you lived in Washington state... how recommendable is it to adopt a sloth? If it's even legal

SaveOurSloths12 karma

We cannot recommend sloths being kept as pets for several reasons. Mainly, sloths that you will find in pet stores have been taken illegally from the rainforest, and this is one of the biggest threats to their survival. By funding this trade, you are contributing to the serious global decline of sloth populations.

everclaire3 karma

Thank you for your time you lucky gal! I recently met a sloth and came completely unglued a la Kristen Bell. Sigh.. Question -Do sloths like people like dogs and dolphins do? Are they indifferent? Tell us about any affections you have received from them.

SaveOurSloths9 karma

Hand-reared sloths bond with humans well, particularly as babies. But as they get older and reach sexual maturity they often care less. Sloths are still very much wild animals and have not been domesticated like dogs. And unlike dolphins, they are not motivated by food or rewards so cannot be trained. It takes a sloth 30 days to digest a single leaf so they have permanently full stomachs, and in nature they are surrounded by plenty of food all of the time so they are not driven in this way.

Having said that though, certain sloths do remain bonded with humans to an extraordinary level. For example, Buttercup the sloth becomes very stressed if she is separated from Judy (founder of the sanctuary) for an extended period of time!

katbowls123 karma

Are sloths very friendly animals? I mean do they respond to human contact well or are they more independent and solitary?

SaveOurSloths9 karma

Sloths are naturally solitary animals and rarely do they bond well with humans. Sometimes, if a sloth has been hand-reared then they will be tame, but often they become independent at sexual maturity and don't want human contact. They will never attack you though, they will simply just pretend you aren't there - unless you happen to be carrying a big bunch of fresh leaves!

Waterrat3 karma

Do some of your sloths go to zoos?

SaveOurSloths7 karma

We try to send as many of the hand-reared sloths to zoo's as possible because we are not yet able to return them to the wild. We would much rather they are acting as ambassadors in zoos around the world educating people about sloths instead of sitting here at the sanctuary! Unfortunately, this is very difficult due to Costa Rican law stating that wild-born animals cannot be shipped out of the country (a very understandable law), but exceptions won't be made for 1 day old orphans. We have a waiting list of zoo's wanting sloths, but no way to get them there!

Fshrcl3 karma

[deleted]

SaveOurSloths12 karma

Yes! They are completely different animals and really should not have the same name. Two-fingered and three-fingered sloths are only as related to each other as they are to anteaters and armadillos. They have been separate animals for a whopping 64 million years! Interestingly, they have evolved to a very similar lifestyle, but with key differences. For example, two-fingered sloths are nocturnal and have a very different diet to the three-fingered sloths which are active during the day. Three-fingered sloths have 2 more neck vertebrae than any other mammal, two-fingered sloths have 2 less than any other mammal! We really should come up with a new name for one of the sloth families to make things less confusing!

pugg_fuggly3 karma

A recent New York Times crossword had an answer saying that some sloths are "one-toed." Many commenters thought this was ridiculous. What's your take?

(EDIT: oops it was the LA Times)

SaveOurSloths12 karma

I can say with certainty that are no naturally one-toed sloths (other than mutants which probably don't survive very long). In fact, all sloths have three toes. Choloepus sloths just have two-fingers! One thing we have been trying to get across for years is that two and three toed sloths are completely different animals. Us humans are more closely related to baboons than the two types of sloth are to each other!

cant_help_myself2 karma

Why do sloths climb down from the tree to poop?

SaveOurSloths13 karma

This is one of the biggest sloth mysteries and we have several theories! Sloths have very specific individual trees that are favored for feeding. This tree choice is passed on from mother to baby. It may be that by pooping at the base of their favorite feeding trees, they are fertilizing the soil and in turn, the tree will produce more nutritious leaves.

Alternatively, this behavior may be something to do with communication. A female will come down to the ground to poop every single day whilst she is in heat, and so this may be a way of signaling her status via pheromones! I am working on this theory at the moment, with camera traps focused on piles of sloth poo out in the jungle. Hopefully we will catch some interesting sloth action going on.

KloverCain2 karma

My best friend loves sloths. She might love them more than I love my children. Any chance you could take picture with a sloth and a message for her for her birthday? (It's in August.)

What's the cutest thing you've ever seen a sloth do?

What's your saddest sloth story?

Thanks for the AMA!

SaveOurSloths13 karma

Unfortunately, if we began offering personalized sloth photos we would have a very big queue of people waiting for these and the sloths would get very stressed out. You could always adopt her a sloth for her birthday and I'm sure she would be just as happy!

The cutest thing I have ever seen a sloth do... hmm that's a tough one... A personal favorite of mine is when two sloths accidentally begin eating the same green bean from opposite ends! Then end having a Lady and the Tramp moment!

Leena the sloth has a very sad story. She is a beautiful two-fingered sloth that did not deserve what happened to her. After being hit by a car, she was sadly set on fire by a group of men. Thankfully, a local bar owner witnessed the incident and came to her rescue. He put out the flames and brought her into his house. Scared and hurting, Leena grabbed hold of the first thing she saw – the table – and wouldn’t let go! In order to get her to us here at the Sloth Sanctuary, he put the whole table into the boot of his car and drove her here! She has a tough spirit and recovered from her injuries well , although she has lost some of her sight and still has some bad scarring on her nose! She is an exceptionally sweet and trusting sloth despite her traumatic start in life.

PickleInDaButt2 karma

I'm just trying to figure out if you're super hot or if that's just the sloth working their damn magic again.

Is holding a baby sloth everything I could ever imagine it being like?

SaveOurSloths6 karma

It is everything and more! Baby sloths are known to reduce grown men to bumbling wrecks....

grant02 karma

I assume you aren't Costa Rican, so how did you come to be in Costa Rica working with sloths?

SaveOurSloths9 karma

I was very lucky in that my university in Manchester offered me a research placement at the sanctuary! I arrived here and never looked back!

EffrumScufflegrit2 karma

I desperately want a pet sloth. I have read that they don't really get affectionate with humans unless you raise them from almost birth.

Is there a viable channel of getting a baby sloth without having to drop thousands of dollars?

SaveOurSloths10 karma

I cannot recommend sloths being kept as pets for several reasons. Mainly, all of sloths that you will find in pet stores have been taken illegally from the rainforest, and this is one of the biggest threats to their survival. By funding this trade, you are contributing to the serious global decline of sloth populations. Also baby sloths are famously difficult to raise, and almost impossible to raise away from their home range. Sloths need a constant temperature of no less than 25 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of 75% or above - this is very difficult to maintain.

bayls1232 karma

I heard sloths go to the ground in order to do their business. Apparently researchers haven't figured out why. What is your best guess?

SaveOurSloths1 karma

This is one of the biggest sloth mysteries and we have several theories! Sloths have very specific individual trees that are favored for feeding. This tree choice is passed on from mother to baby. It may be that by pooping at the base of their favorite feeding trees, they are fertilizing the soil and in turn, the tree will produce more nutritious leaves. Alternatively, this behavior may be something to do with communication. A female will come down to the ground to poop every single day whilst she is in heat, and so this may be a way of signaling her status via pheromones! I am working on this theory at the moment, with camera traps focused on piles of sloth poo out in the jungle. Hopefully we will catch some interesting sloth action going on.