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.

Volunteer Blog – Greta Wong

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Hello! My name is Greta Wong, and I am an American university student, studying Organismic Evolutionary Biology, with an interest in conservation. As such, GHFS has been such a perfect learning platform. With so many projects going on, it’s easy to absorb knowledge just by talking with the other volunteers about their projects. Although I’ve only been here a month, I’ve helped with sloth and anteater rehabilitation, dolphin research, Kapok tree mapping, and raising conservation awareness.

One of my primary projects has been transferring the information on all of our sloth rescues to an online database. While data entry may not seem like the most riveting task, it has actually been enlightening. Each sloth has its own story of how it came to us. Many are found in the city, wandering without a home due to the deforestation here. Others are found tied up, being sold as pets. Often when the sloths first arrive at GHFS, they are timid and curled in a ball. But, once we offer them some busipapaya leaves (their favorite leaves), they happily crunch away and await their swift release back into the wild.

I’ve loved learning about the circumstances of their rescue, especially when I come across one of our long-term residents. It’s wonderful to see how our care has really helped these sloths and how they’ve grown since they came to us.

In places where conservation is not on the forefront of people’s minds, it can be hard to know how to incite change. Luckily, GHFS has dedicated volunteers and a strong leader, all of whom have been working relentlessly to protect Suriname’s special ecosystem.

The experience I’ve gained from being here is invaluable, and I am excited to see where this organization will go!

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Volunteer Blog – Kasie Wade

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Kasie enjoying a sunset with a new found friend.

My studies in Fisheries and Wildlife have brought my passion for conservation and wildlife to hands on experience. I have traveled to Suriname from the United States, from specifically the state of Florida. I am in the fifth week of my internship with the Green Heritage Fund of Suriname. I work closely with Monique Pool who is the founder of GHFS. She was nominated as a CNN Hero in 2015 for her major contributions to sloth rescue and rehabilitations during displacement from deforestation and pet trade, as well as her other environmental achievements.  The Green Heritage Fund of Suriname has a lot of opportunities I am able to participate in. I even started my first day by feeding the orphaned baby sloth named Glen.

My time here has already allowed me the chance to work with; three-toed sloths, two-toed sloths, a giant anteater, and two lesser anteaters. I experienced the hard work it takes to care for these exotic animals. I have participated in four sloth rescues, as well as, watched two three-toed sloths and one two-toed sloth be released in healthy condition into the Amazon rainforest.

All of these animals are in need of around the clock feeding, cleaning and monitoring. The work is strenuous, but most of all positive and fun. However, we must continuously pick the leaves for feeding our three-toed sloths. This part of the adventure can be dirty, muddy and worst of all full of attacking ants. Picking leaves in many different regions can be challenging to find the perfect tree suitable for the animals. The preparation for the animal feeding is quite expensive and time consuming, so the more help the better.

A car full of leaves! Enough though for only 2 days...
A car full of leaves! Enough though for only 2 days…

I have joined two dolphin monitoring tours on beautiful Sundays. These days proved to be rewarding experiences each time. Each time out on the boat we saw many estuarine dolphins actively showing off for the boat. On my last trip, the boat stopped at Braamspunt, a sand spit in the Suriname River (braamspunt.org), to visit the local fishermen and see what type of shrimp and fish they catch daily.

I am happy to be here and continue this great learning experience.

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