(SLOTHS/WILDLIFE CONSERVATION) On June 2, the oldest sloth in the world, Miss C, died at the age of 43. She spent her long life at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, and was the last to exist in the country.
Since sloths are native to Central and South America, the Aussies might have to wait a while before seeing another furry slowpoke in their land.
The death of Miss C reduced the sloth population by one due to age-related issues. That said, are there other threats to these animals? Sadly, yes.
Sloths, like the Hoffman’s two-toed family in particular, are categorized as having the “least concern” in relation to their population, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, it doesn’t mean these animals are in the clear.
In fact, there are three major factors that contribute to the sloth’s dwindling populations: habitat loss, vehicular traffic, and illegal pet trade.
• Habitat Loss
These mammals live most of their lives in trees. They do almost everything–eating, sleeping, mating, and even giving birth–while hanging on branches. The only significant thing these sedentary animals do on the ground is defecate (and they actually do so for ecological balance). Apart from that, you could say that they’re pretty much useless on ground level.
So just imagine what would happen if humans decide to convert a forest into an agricultural farm, palm oil plantation, or something else equally destructive. Cutting down trees would destroy the sloth’s home in one full swoop. Without help from an animal rescue or sanctuary, these animals would be extremely vulnerable to predators, weather elements, and moving vehicles.
• Vehicular Traffic
Cars and other types of vehicles are among the biggest dangers to sloths. There are times when these tree-huggers are left with no choice but to crawl on the ground to transfer to another tree. If the animals are crossing the road, drivers who are not paying attention are likely to run them over.
If humans continue destroying rain forests, an increasing number of these animals will be forced out of their homes to crawl on the ground. Who knows how many more sloths won’t successfully make it to the other side of the road?
• Illegal Pet Trade
Buying a sloth as a domestic pet is growing in popularity throughout the US. The prices, however, are no joke. Baby sloths, for instance, average $700 to $4,000 each. And since they are considered as exotic pets, necessary legal documents need to be secured before taking one home.
Due to certain pet laws and policies in some states, many people interested in keeping sloths as pets will opt for an illegal deal. These illegal suppliers will pluck the animals from their natural habitats and sell them without going through any governmental processes. Others might even kill the adult sloths and snatch their babies as the latter are in higher demand.
Killing adult sloths, as well as abducting baby sloths from their natural habitat, will only contribute to reduced populations in the years to come.
Although the sloth’s population isn’t currently at risk of going extinct, we must work to protect these defenseless creatures and prevent threatening factors before it’s too late.
One of the biggest (and easiest) contributions any animal lover can do is opt against keeping them as pets. After all, these animals are meant to live in the wild–not in the comforts of your home.
If you’re still interested in interacting with sloths, there are several conservation centers you can visit all over the world. Although sloths are native to Central and South America, you can find sloth conservation facilities outside of these regions–just make sure you’re not visiting a dubious facility.
A little Internet research will help you find true, legitimate sloth conservation facilities, like the Sloth Captive Husbandry Center in Oregon, or the Sloth Conservation Foundation in the UK:
- Sloth Captive Husbandry Center: The Sloth Captive Husbandry Center in Rainier, Oregon houses the world’s largest population of captive adult sloths. It is also associated with the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center. As a conservation facility, it primarily provides long-term emotional, mental, and physical care–not only for sloths, but also for other captive animals. Aside from that, this conservation facility aims to preserve and propagate endangered species. It has the Sloth Center where it educates the community by providing interactive educational experiences to its visitors.
- The Sloth Conservation Foundation: Based in the United Kingdom, the Sloth Conservation Foundation is a non-profit, charitable organization that aims to save and protect wild sloths by conducting research and spearheading conservation programs. It also educates and encourages local communities to care for sloths and be actively involved in protecting the natural environment.
In addition to boycotting sloths as pets and participating in sloth conservation efforts, another significant way to save wild sloths is to be careful if you’re driving in areas where sloths thrive (Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela, just to name a few).
In addition to the conservation centers mentioned above, The Sloth Institute (TSI) in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is one of the many organizations working towards the sloths’ survival. The dedicated non-profit conducts research on the health, behavior, and welfare of sloth populations.
Though it is not a sloth sanctuary and is unavailable to the public, this conservation facility significantly caters to the needs of wild, captive, and recently released sloths. It also provides useful information about these arboreal mammals and how to help them.
While sloths are not endangered at the moment, it’s clear these amazing animals face challenges that may threaten their population in the future. But this can easily be avoided as long as we leave them alone in their natural environment, and remain diligent with sloth conservation efforts.
Click here to see how you can help TSI keep sloths in the wild where they belong.
Author Bio: Mary Alusin is a passionate writer and a pet-lover. She has two beautiful dogs and takes care of four stray cats. When she’s not working, she’s either playing with her pets or watching a movie.