(ENDANGERED SPECIES/WILDLIFE) The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) recently filed an emergency petition to list the pygmy three-toed sloth as critically endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Only 79 of the world’s smallest sloths are left in the wild.

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Pygmy three-toes sloths are in risk of extinction, with only 79 left in the wild. Photo Credit: National Geographic

On September 9, Dallas World Aquarium (DWA) attempted to export six pygmies to Texas who were captured on their native Isla Escudo de Veraguas in Panama.

Eight sloths were captured in total, with the other two headed for a zoo in Panama, removing a significant percentage of the population.

Fortunately, the export was stopped by concerned citizens, animal advocates, and local authorities. The captured sloths were eventually returned and released back into the wild.

Given what little information is known about this species and their diet, much less whether they can survive in captivity, it is absurd that Dallas World Aquarium would seek to remove a large percentage of the wild population to import into the United States,” said AWI Wildlife Attorney Tara Zuardo.

According to DWA, the animals were captured to ensure their survival, despite the fact that the species does not survive well in captivity. No pygmy has ever reproduced or experienced an increased life span from being in captivity.

A successful listing under the ESA would help prevent future U.S. imports like this one. AWI will continue to encourage Panama, the USA, and other CITES member countries to support a CITES Appendix I listing of the pygmy three-toed sloth, banning international commercial trade of the species.

Currently, the species is not yet protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or the ESA.

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Pygmy three-toed sloths are only found on one small island off the coast of Panama. They were officially recognized as a distinct species in 2001. Photo Credit: blogspot.com

Quick Facts About The Three-Toed Pygmy Sloth:

  • Identified as a distinct species in 2001
  • Can only be found on Isla Escudo de Veraguas which has been separated from mainland Panama for 9,000 years
  • Ideally suited to life in the mangroves and is surprisingly good at swimming
  • Primarily feeds on the leaves of the red mangrove trees in which it lives
  • Main forms of defences are camouflage and stealth
  • Can go for up to seven days without needing to defecate
  • Green algae found in the fur of the pygmy three-toed sloth is symbiotic, providing camoflauge
  • Have extra neck vertebrae that allows them to turn their heads some 270 degrees
  • Habitat destruction is a major threat to existence

—Kayla Newcomer, exclusive to Global Animal