How are baby sloths born?

Sheep just started to drink

Have you ever wondered how a baby sloth is born? Although I know that baby sloths are born in trees. I just realized on the 27th of September that it is a risky business! On the 27th of September, we received a call that a baby sloth had been found on the ground in someone’s backyard. So we drove over, equipped with our Bluetooth speaker. We thought the mother could not be far and wanted to amplify the baby’s cries to lure the mother to her baby.

However, when we arrived, we learned the baby had fallen off its mother the day before. Crying for its mother. And discovered by the man because of that. He did not dare leave it because he had cats. But by now, almost 24 hours later, the poor little two-fingered baby sloth had weakened so severely it could not call anymore. We realized this was an accident that happened during or shortly after the birth. The membranes were not completely removed, so the baby may have fallen while the mother had been licking it to remove the membrane. We looked and looked, but no adult sloth was near. We left with the baby because we could not reunite it with its mother. The man who had called us told us he regularly saw these two-fingered sloths and estimated there were five in the trees in his backyard.

We were on our way back for almost 10 minutes when he called us again. He had found the mother in the tree. We turned around, and yes, indeed. There was an adult two-fingered sloth in the tree near where he had found the baby. We tried to get its attention, but no response. Two-fingered sloths sleep during the day. After trying to get it to move for 15 minutes, we gave up. Maybe it was an aunt or the father. It was, in any case, not interested in us humans.

We asked the man before we left if he wanted to give the baby a name. He told us that his son had given it the name: Sheep. He called all animals sheep, because his father kept sheep in the backyard. Interestingly, two-fingered sloths are called in our local language skapuloiri, which means “sheep sloth.” Sheep is now almost two months old; after the first week of intensive care, we felt Sheep’s condition stabilizing. Now, Sheep is already starting to eat leaves and has become more aware of his surroundings.

Cleo traumatized by loosing her mother

Not long after we received Sheep, two more baby sloths were reported to us. In this case, two baby three-fingered sloths. As our animal caretaker has been on a long holiday since the end of September, the care for the babies fell on me. And although tiring, it reminded me why I am doing what we do. To give these baby animals a second chance to live a whole life.

Thanks to your support, we can give Sheep, Mailo, and Cleo a chance to have their own babies in the future.

Sloths one year at the Sloth Wellness Center in Saramacca


Mock-feeding the one-year olds so that I can feed baby Angel

When I first arrived in Suriname, I had little knowledge about the small, slow, incredible creatures I would soon grow to love. In the United States, sloths are internet sensations. Due to their specialized lifestyle and fragile nature, sloths, particularly three-fingered species, are not common zoo animals. So, the only real exposure to these animals comes from internet videos, which typically only emphasize how cute sloths are and contain very little real information about them. These videos are everywhere, showing sloths being cleaned and hung to dry, the perpetual smiles of the brown and pale-throated sloths, and the big, round eyes of juveniles peering over the buckets they live in. Sloths are infrequently portrayed as the wild animals they are, perpetuating a false, romanticized, or incomplete image of them. As my two-month internship at the Sloth Wellness Center would teach me, sloths are fascinating wild animals that are much more complex than the slow and smiley depictions we see.

On my arrival in late May, the center’s long-term occupants were well on their way to approaching adulthood. Caring for these animals everyday helped me appreciate the individuality of each animal and the remarkable behavior and nature of sloths.


Sara heading out on another trip into the forest

Jinkoe celebrated the one-year anniversary of her stay at the center in the beginning of July. When I saw her for the first time, she was already on her way to the Cecropia tree next to the center. Jinkoe continued to flex her adventurous spirit for the next two months, spending several days in the forest at a time. Sometimes she’d end her trips early if the rain was particularly heavy and she’d crawl back to the center soaking wet. Her excursions would grow longer in duration each time she left, and I believe she’s warming herself up to spend the rest of her life in the forest. Sara, another young three-fingered sloth that recently was brought under our care, was even more bold than Jinkoe. She’d set off on week-long vacations away from the center, always stopping back to hang out for a day or two.

Ostrich also celebrated her one-year anniversary at the center in July and achieved another milestone during my time in Suriname— motherhood (well, almost). Due to her gentle nature, Ostrich was the perfect companion for one of the center’s newest, youngest residents, Angel. In his first few days at the center, Angel was restless and searching for his mother, trying to call to her with a high-pitched whistle. After a few days had passed, Angel would gently hold onto Ostrich while they were both eating. Soon, Angel was completely wrapped around Ostrich, seemingly glued to her with his tight grip. At first we weren’t certain if Ostrich was welcoming the change.


Angel and Ostrich in one of their typical lounging positions

However, a couple of weeks after the pair formed, I tried to pick up Angel to weigh him, which prompted a defensive response from Ostrich. To protect her adopted baby, she hissed and raised her claw up to swing at me. So, we figured she must like her hitchhiker at least a little bit. They both would exercise independence and had moments alone during the day, but always seemed to curl up next to each other each night.

Avi, the two-fingered sloth, has been at the center for just over half a year and has grown substantially since her arrival. As a nocturnal animal, Avi was asleep during most of the day, except for in the mornings when she would be put outside to relax in the sun. In those moments, she’d be stretching her neck up to get as much sunlight as possible. At night, she would actively crawl all over her jungle gym, stretching her muscles and exploring each corner.

I spent most of my time caring for the baby two-fingered sloth, Balletje (“Little ball”). She was the first sloth I ever saw in person, and she was incredibly small and fragile. Before she reached us, Balletje was inappropriately kept as someone’s pet. They fed her noodles instead of a proper diet, which made her malnourished and sick. When she began her stay at the center, she was always hungry but still appeared weak and limp, sitting wrapped up in a ball instead of using her arms or legs. She slowly began using her arms to hang on to her stuffed animal “mother,” but would hold her feet together instead of using them to support her weight. However, as she continued to eat a healthy diet, she began to grow stronger, support herself while hanging, and explore. It was really rewarding to be a part of that journey and to watch her demeanor change from sluggish to active and engaged in her surroundings.


Beertje “Little Bear” and Anna hanging out in the trees surrounding the center

 

The center and the surrounding forest provide a wonderful environment for wildlife. We release many of the adult sloths and anteaters that we rescue in this forest. The young animals that grow up in our care are also released into this forest and can still be seen in the area. Sloths Anna, 19November, Christine and Little Bear are often spotted lounging in the trees near the center.

 

 

 

 

Other than sloths, the forest is full of remarkable diversity. A troupe of twenty squirrel monkeys frequently move through the trees in the late morning. The low howl of the howler monkey can be heard deep in the forest. Agoutis rustle the piles of fallen leaves in the clearings behind trees and lizards, small and large, move through the low foliage. Bright blue morpho butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies can be seen hovering between flowers and bushes. The silhouettes of toucans, macaws, parakeets and vultures can be seen flying over the canopy in the distance. What seems to be thousands of leaf cutter ants march great distances from their large nests in the forest to the center and back again. The forest is full with the never-ending hum of cicadas, crickets, and frogs. These animals are only a small fraction of the countless lives and rich diversity that populates the forest. This is why protecting the forests of Suriname is so important—so many remarkable lives depend on them.

Wildlife Welfare

Experiencing nature and wildlife in such an intimate way has given me a new appreciation for wildlife welfare, which I also spent a lot of my time researching for GHFS. Wild animals are often reduced to numbers, with a focus on population size and diversity, considering them as componentsof their ecosystems instead of individual animals. The sloths I spent time with proved to me that individual wild animals have unique experiences and react to their surroundings differently. They experience emotional states like fear, satisfaction, and stress, have food preferences, and pursue different activities for enjoyment. I could see this daily—in the interactions between Angel and Ostrich, in Jinkoe’s short temper, in Balletje’s weariness of eating apple and unyielding love for egg whites, in Sara’s unexpected visits back to the center. Each sloth taught me about the value of individual wild animals. When considering wildlife and forest protection, it’s important to keep this in mind, since human activities can have a large impact on not just population size, but also individual animal wellbeing.

This knowledge is only some of the countless bits of information my two months in Suriname taught me. To briefly name a few, I also learned how much I want to pursue wildlife conservation and protection, how sloths might be the best animal evolution ever created, and how only two months is enough time for a place to really feel like home. Although my stay ended much too quickly, the center welcomed another guest in my place— a baby three-fingered sloth. Her name is Rory too, and I’m certain she is growing up in the best home possible.

A Very Special Animal: the Sloth

Ruben Leter and his colleague student Bregje Bouma from the School for Journalism in Utrecht, the Netherlands, visited us just before we are moving. For the TV program NOON, which is broadcast every Friday on RTV Utrecht, 10 students from this school travelled to Suriname for two weeks to make two episodes. We were very pleased that they made this beautiful film about the sloths.

One Little Bright Star was added to the Constellation of Sloth

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When you hear that there is talk about stars and constellations, you already are bracing yourself for unpleasant news. Someone must have died. And indeed, regrettably we do not always have good news. One of our most beloved and followed little friends has taken his place in the Constellation of Sloth. Our little friend Glenn, who was doing his best to hang on to see his new home become a reality. Although Glenn loved his food and his sloth smoothie, he failed to thrive and somehow did not seem to get all the nutrition out of his food. At a certain moment we even decided to help his digestion by adding probiotics to his diet. Glenn received a lot of love from our overseas and local volunteers. Gabriella, Esi, Greta and Kasie – all from their respective countries to help us care for the animals and also with our other projects – and our local volunteers Ann, Stellar, Yvonne, Lori, Jonathan, Kavita, Patrick they all helped him in their own way and loved him dearly. Our vets Audrey and Leontine both gave their expert assistance. Patrick built him his special climbing rack, the other volunteers gave him smoothie and fysiotherapy and all of us gave him lots of love. He was our little star. He was persistent and did not want to give up, but his small body was failing him. I guess why, we will never know. Maybe he had left his mother so early that he missed some essential bacteria in his gut to assist him in getting all nutrients out of his food, maybe the antibiotics for his infected wound caused a negative side-effect, we will never know. What we do know is that we have to prevent animals from being shot in the first place, because then little Glenn would not have to face the ordeal he had to without his mum. Our centre will have an important educational function, and stories like the story of Glenn will be highlighted to make people understand why target practice on life animals is wrong. If love could have saved Glenn, he would have lived forever.

Glenn’s story

Baby Glenn came in huddled in a small box. The young lady, who did not want her picture taken, told me that she had found the baby in an overgrown plot in her street. She thought the mother was dead, but did not know for sure. They had fed him bread, milk and bananas and had fed him with a bottle. Her friend had tried to sell the animal through facebook, but received threats and kind and unkind nudges to give the animal to the Green Heritage Fund Suriname. They panicked and tried to get the animal over to our facility as soon as they could. It was Easter Monday, a national holiday, and we had gone out to release some animals. They were waiting at the gate as we pulled up the car. Before she hurriedly left, she said: “Oh, his name is Glenn”. Glenn stole everybody’s heart with his good looks and eager attittude when we were feeding him. Although I had noticed something on his leg, I had not thoroughly examined him as our vet was also out of the country. But then one of our volunteers complained that he smelled. When we examined him, we found an infected  shotwound in his hindleg. Now we were sure that his mother was dead. We cleaned out the wound immediately, and brought him the next day to another vet, who again cleaned and inspected the wound and confirmed it was a shotwound. He received medication and we continued to clean it out daily. Glenn received physiotherapy as his leg was weak and he was not so good at moving it. His growth was also stunted and our vet Audrey regularly came to check on his progress. For Glen the Rehab center cannot be built fast enough. However, the heavy rains of the rainy season delayed the construction activities.

More sad news

Strange enough, the week in which Glenn died, was a week of more sadness. Not only was I taking Glenn in and out of the office of the vet, we had another patient, also with shot wounds, who had arrived on the 31st of August. She was barely alive when I collected her from the zoo. She also must have been target practice for some stupid idiot. The animal had been found near the Zoo and she apparently had given up. We rushed it to the vet who gave it infusion fluids and looked at what I thought was a bullet wound. The next day it was again examined, one bullet was lodged in its paw, the other one in its back, a few centimetres from the spine. We thought she was going to make it, because she was eating very well, despite being in a lot of pain. However, after a full week, we realized that she was paralyzed to the extent that she could not release herself. Together with our vets Audrey and Leontine, I had to take the difficult decision to let her go. She joined our Little Bright Star Glenn, who had passed away a few days earlier in the Constellation of Sloth.

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