Thankful at the End of 2022

Yvonne releasing an animal back into the forest

We have a lot to be thankful for at the end of this year. We had many interns and volunteers turn up to help with our work. Frances entered data for all our Paramaribo rescues of the past five years while immediately mapping them. Wianda entered data from many, many years of feeding our temporary stay animals. Loren worked hard to keep a starving giant anteater pup alive and put her vet skills to work for us. Roberto provided expert advice from a distance with many of our critical rescues. Sean and Gini and a crew of Indigenous assistants helped maintain the educational trail and other parts of our rehabilitation center.

Karen and her volunteers helping to keep our driveway passable

Karen and her team of volunteers came more than once to help us maintain the driveway to the center. Shovel sand into the enclosures to compensate for the heavy rainfall that caused more water to stand longer in new places. Ingrid came with her Batik group and her teacher Sri to finish our educational mural. Irenka and Mailo helped save an animal from the illegal wildlife trade. Dominiek came with his students to inventory the trees in our sacred little forest to improve the educational story. Volunteers came to help finish the enclosures for the animals to start getting used to the forest.

Visitors witness a release and are educated on the biology of sloths

Our Rehabilitation Center Team, in the meantime, ensured the continuous care of all our animals – permanently living in the trees, semi-permanently on their way to freedom, and those just passing through.

Yvonne taking care of one of the baby sloths

Our city team worked tirelessly to rescue animals in the city from uncomfortable situations in houses, under roofs, tied by malicious people to a fence, and shot by hunters or gunmen without a conscience.

The vets we work with, either online or locally, gave it their best to try to save animals in critical condition, burned, shot, or otherwise debilitated due to the situation they came from.

Vet volunteer Loren with our vet Astrid tending to a patient

We gave interviews and presentations and produced educational materials to help raise awareness of how humans are the greatest threat to wildlife, whether directly through hunting, trafficking, other human-wildlife encounters or indirectly due to climate change.

Start screen of our educational series

We celebrated our volunteers during our volunteer event at which two sloth awards were handed out to Natascha Wong A Ton, for having provided more than a decade long financial advise. And to Sharen-Vess Schaap, the once youngest volunteer, and now the volunteer that has supported us for almost 14 years.

Volunteers at the event to celebrate the sloth awardees

Thanks to the financial support of many donors, visitors, and our partner Welttierschutzgesellschaft, all this was made possible for us in 2022. The almost 130 rescues, the rehabilitation of the animals that needed it, the releases. Our educational tours, awareness, and advocacy.

Resting on her surrogate mother, Sheep is taking in the world

We are immensely grateful for the support of our volunteers, donors, visitors, by-standers and our partner. We wish you all a fantastic 2023! We hope to welcome you to our center one day.

Wildlife Welfare and Sloths

Suriname is home to two species of sloth, the three-fingered Bradypus tridactylus and the two-fingered Choloepus didactylus. Although neither species is currently considered threatened with extinction [12, 13] , their well-being and health is threatened to varying degrees by many activities in different parts of their range.

DEFORESTATION

Both the three and two fingered sloths are arboreal, so deforestation is one of the largest activities threatening their survival [2, 10]. Suriname’s expansive forests are threatened by urban and agricultural expansion, as well as by the timber, mining, and oil industries. Clear-cutting can greatly affect sloths, and in one instance, deforestation of a 6.8 hectare urban forest patch in Paramaribo negatively impacted 135 sloths, all of which had to be rescued and relocated. This process of this habitat destruction and handling by humans lead to behavioral changes including increased aggression, fear, and restlessness [46], which are symptoms of stress and reduced welfare (Broom, 2010). 

Deforestation caused by illegal mining Photo: (c) Kel O’Neil and Eline Jongsma

Deforestation has many potential negative impacts on welfare. First, loss of habitat also corresponds with a reduction in food availability, either by removal of food or forceful relocation into an area where individuals must find new sources of food [39]. Prolonged malnutrition, starvation, and dehydration significantly reduces animal well-being and health, causing suffering and disabling them from performing other important behaviors [35]. B. tridactylus, due to its low dispersal capabilities [28], sedentary and slow-moving nature, small home range, and tendency to stay still instead of fleeing when faced with danger, is even more impacted by deforestation. C. didactlyus moves more quickly, is more aggressive, and has better dispersal abilities, so they can better adapt to habitat modification [39]. But, individuals of both species can be injured, killed, or forced to quickly adapt to a new environment, which can reduce welfare. Additionally, B. tridactylus has more specialized requirements for habitat, requiring intact forest areas with connected canopies and heterogenous vegetation [40]. Two-toed sloths are more flexible when it comes to habitat, but they will also avoid clear-cut agricultural areas [28].

A two-fingered sloth hanging on an electrical wire, at risk of electrocution

Even if animals survive the clear-cutting process without injury, they face further problems in establishing a new living territory. Deforestation can force sloths into environments they’re not adapted to survive in, like agricultural or urban landscapes. In these new environments, they face threats of starvation and dehydration, with additional threats of cars, human interaction, and electrocution in urban environments [39]. Since many of adult sloths rescued by GHFS are found in the urban areas of Paramaribo, it is important to consider what drives these animals to an inhospitable environment. Even if a forest is only partially clear-cut, new fragmentation can alter forest resources and lead to edge-effects, which pose unique challenges for an animal to adapt to [56]. An important factor in considering wildlife welfare is ensuring that species can exist under conditions to which they’re adapted to [25], which habitat loss compromises.

Conservation efforts that are meant to save sloths from these fates, like rescue and relocation, also come with unfortunate welfare strains. Rescue entails handling, manipulation, and transportation, which can cause stress and agitated behaviors for sloths [46]. Relocation, although to an environment better suited for their survival, can also pose temporary welfare problems for many different animals as they become acclimated to their new environment [37], establish territory and find a reliable source of food. So, although rescue missions are an effective way to protect sloths, the best way to eliminate poor welfare and stress is to prevent habitat loss.

PET TRADE

More and more, sloths are advertised in media as being very gregarious animals, which creates a demand for sloths in the pet trade. Several animals that end up in the care of GHFS come from being kept in captivity as pets, which causes an observed reduction in their health and wellbeing. Wildlife pet trade causes a great deal of suffering for many species of animal, as they are often transported in inadequate housing, potentially causing injury or asphyxiation, and are not provided with adequate resources, leading to malnutrition, dehydration, and starvation [5]. As already noted, the process of handling and collecting wild sloths can often cause them stress and lead to non-typical behaviors indicative of fear and aggressiveness [46]. 

If sloths survive the trip, more problems wait for them at their destination. Sloths can experience a lot of health problems in captivity. In a study testing the clinical problems captive sloths experience, sloths coming from living in private homes are often significantly malnourished, likely due to their dietary specificity which makes them difficult to feed, especially the three-fingeredBradypusspecies [18]. Complications from improper feeding has been noted in the baby sloths that later come under the care of GHFS, particularly in a young two-fingered sloth received in early June of 2018. This animal couldn’t digest the inappropriate food given and her stomach contents entered her lungs, threatening her life. Sloths also commonly experience pneumonia and other respiratory problems when they are subjected to improper temperature and humidity regulation in their housing. Sloths are adapted to a high temperature and humidity climate due to their low thermoregulatory capabilities and slow metabolism, and can suffer under colder conditions [18]. 

A young sloth being sold on Facebook

While in captivity, sloths can also be harmed in other ways by their caretakers. With a very strong grip and long claws, sloths can have their nails cut or filed, as well as their teeth. The lack of information on how to best treat these animals, in regards to their diet, environmental needs, and behavior, is what leads to such suffering, sickness, and stress in captivity [39]. 

HUNTING

Hunting is another significant threat to B. tridactylus andC. didactylus [2] who are hunted and consumed throughout their range, including in Suriname. Although not the most hunted Xenarthra species or most popular to eat [59], sloths, historically, have been hunted for bushmeat by indigenous communities throughout the neotropics [50], although the hunting of sloths is not limited to these communities. Sloths are not a legal export in Suriname [23], so hunting occurs for internal personal consumption or small-scale internal trade [61], although the data is lacking. 

Hunting can cause poor welfare in any hunted animal in instances where the attack is not initially fatal. If not killed immediately, an animal can experience stress and pain for minutes, hours, and even days. If the injury is severe, it can prevent the animal from performing life sustaining behaviors, like seeking sustenance and avoiding predators, leading to further suffering from starvation and malnutrition [55]. For a slow-moving animal like the sloth, the impact of an injury on mobility may be even larger. 

In several instances, it was observed or suspected that the mothers were hunted for food while their babies were initially kept as pets before ending up in the care of GHFS. This can cause reduced welfare for the baby on top of the problems that come with pet trade. Sloth babies spend all their early life clinging to their mothers and learn a lot of motor and behavioral patterns from them. Orphan babies are more likely to consume harmful flora and objects and have motor and behavioral abnormalities [58]. Separation from their mothers can also cause babies significant stress, causing them to elicit a distress call in the form of a whistle or bleat [38].

Therefore, although not the most pressing threat to sloth conservation in Suriname, hunting can have a significant impact on welfare and development.

Wildlife Welfare and Xenarthra, Dolphins, and Manatees

Wildlife welfare is the field of study that considers how human activities impact the well-being and quality of life of free-living wild animals. Many practices humans engage in, such as deforestation, mining, pet trade, and hunting, can cause harm and create long-term suffering and poor welfare states in wild animals [55]. Negative welfare for a wild animal can cause changes in biological functioning and negative affective states, like fear, frustration, or depression [31]. Poor welfare also can lead to long term health problems. These states can reduce an animal’s ability to survive and reproduce, later affecting wildlife on a population scale. This, as well as the direct impact the same human activities have on wildlife population size, emphasizes the important connection between wildlife welfare and conservation [26]. Assessing welfare allows us to alter our practices in order to reduce wildlife suffering and improve wildlife health, in turn creating a healthier environment [49].

Green Heritage Fund Suriname emphasizes the importance of protecting the well-being of individual animals, illustrated through our extensive rehabilitation works for injured and young animals, particularly that of sloths and anteaters at our Sloth Wellness Center. The wild animals we work with, including sloths, anteaters, armadillos, dolphins, and manatees, are negatively impacted by human activity in Suriname and in other areas in their range. Each animal species is impacted uniquely by different activities, and therefore its important to assess the problems and consequences for each species. 

Part 2 – Wildlife Welfare: What it is and why it’s important

Orphaned anteater struggling to stay alive without maternal care.

WHAT WILDLIFE WELFARE IS NOT

Further, there is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights [10], although both fields are grounded in ethical considerations of animal life. There are key distinctions between the two, which are often unknown, that make scientists, policy-makers, and regular civilians reluctant to consider animal welfare a legitimate field.

ANIMAL WELFARE

  • Tries to reduce/minimize suffering animals experience from human activity
  • Allows for human-animal interaction and the human consumption or use of animals, although within humane limits
  • A scientific movement that tries to explain how humans should care for animals in captivity and in the wild
  • Includes positive states and how humans can benefit the animals in their care

ANIMAL RIGHTS

  • Calls for the complete elimination of negative human impact on animals
  • Animals cannot be used or exploited by humans: no consumption, use for entertainment, research on animals, hunting, etc.
  • a political/philosophical movement that assigns animals the same rights humans have

Welfare science does not try to separate humans from animals, it simply strives to improve the relationship we’ve already created. The field of wildlife welfare is flexible and understands its caveats. There are certain internal negative affects that can never be entirely eliminated because they are important biological functions that enable an animal’s survival, like hunger, thirst, and breathlessness. Because these effects can only be neutralized temporarily, it is important to minimize their intensity and duration. Also, because humans do not have control over every aspect of a free-living animal’s life, welfare for wildlife is much less hands-on than that of welfare for domesticated, captive, or farming animals.  However, if there are human activities shown to produce negative welfare states in individual wild animals, managing or changing those activities is a way to improve wild animal well-being.

WHICH HUMAN ACTIVITIES NEGATIVELY IMPACT WILDLIFE WELFARE

As we move into the future, we consider more which human activities lead to population decline, extinction, and biodiversity loss. Similarly, we need to examine which actions of ours reduce the quality of life of individual animals, not just those that drastically reduce population size. Many problems that are already shown to negatively impact our environment also negatively impact the lives of the animals that live within:

  • Deforestation and other habitat alterations— Forced relocation causes stress, food insecurity could lead to prolonged starvation, alteration methods could injure or frighten the animals, [9,10]
  • Pest-control— certain poisons or traps do not cause immediate death, and can cause injury and pain that lasts days to months, sometimes inhibiting other biological functions like eating [12]
  • Wildlife pet trade— the acts of capturing and relocating animals can cause stress or injury, inappropriate housing when kept as a pet can cause loneliness, frustration, and depression, inappropriate diet when kept as a pet can lead to malnutrition and disease [1]
  • Pollution— chemical pollution, water plastic pollution, and air pollution can cause long-term injury and disease, reducing individual ability to perform other survival-critical functions [7,12]
  • Boat usage— boats produce noise that can disturb animals in many ways, including causing necessary movement out of the habitat due to stress, effecting communication between animals, and disrupting foraging behavior leading to prolonged hunger [6]
  • Hunting— an animal not immediately killed can suffer for days from injury and pain, other animals can ingest poisonous bullets [12]

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

On top of the moral reasons to pursue practices to promote positive wildlife welfare, the well-being of wildlife actually has important implications for human health. Human health, animal health, and environmental health are all connected and can have serious impacts on the others, as emphasized through the One Health Initiative. 

Image from: http://www.nonaiswa.org/wordpress/wpcontent/uploads/2012/01/onehealth_circle6.png Articles Synopsis Zinsstag, J., Schelli

Many of the human activities that have a negative impact on wildlife welfare could also hurt human health. Wildlife pet trade reduces an animal’s wellbeing while putting them in closer proximity to humans, which could harm human health as well. Deforestation and habitat destruction increase the human-animal interface, increasing the likelihood of disease transmission. The same pollutants that reduce animal welfare are also pollutants that can cause problems for human health as well. 

So, it is extremely important to assess what activities cause harm to wildlife, because they can also harm us. Therefore, considering wildlife welfare is not only ethically good, but also beneficial to human health and our environment. 

Click here for the list of references.

Part 1 – Wildlife Welfare: What it is and why it’s important

Orphaned anteater struggling to stay alive without maternal care.

Animal welfare is the answer to the ethical question people have been asking for years: how should humans treat animals? Although certainly grounded in morality and respect for the creatures we share our planet with, animal welfare is not solely philosophical. In fact, in recent decades, the science behind animal welfare has become better understood [3,4,7] and is being used to guide animal management, conservation, and policy-making.

Historically, the animal welfare field has primarily concerned itself with domesticated or farm animals, so applying the concept to free-living wild animals is a more recent development. Through a lens of conservation biology, animal welfare is applicable to wildlife, as many of the human activities affecting the environment and wildlife, like deforestation and human encroachment, are also affecting the welfare of individual wild animals [5, 10, 12]. However, establishing this connection has not been easy, since certain conservationists and welfarists are reluctant to accept it. 

Many animal welfare specialists have decided that the term animal welfare is better off being characterizedinstead of rigidly defined [8], so the best way to understand welfare is to understand its components:

  • Welfare is related to three parts of an animal’s wellbeing: the animal’s health and basic functioning, their affective/emotional states, their ability to live in a manner to which they’re adapted [10]
  • Welfare as a state reflects an animal’s ability to cope with its environment [2,4]
  • An individual’s welfare reflects its current fitness (ability to survive and reproduce) or future fitness [2]
  • Considering welfare is an attempt to minimize the human impact on the unnecessary suffering of animals 
  • Welfare is related to an animal’s experiences, perceptions, and sensations [8]
  • Welfare is influenced by both internal and external experiences. Internal affects are biological experiences that motivate an animal to perform a life-sustaining action (ie. feeling hunger motivates an animal to seek food). External experiences result from how the animal perceives its environment (ie. A cramped living area might cause frustration or boredom) [8].
  • Welfare cannot be directly measured, but there are suitable proxies that can be, like behavior or hormone levels, that enable reasonable inference [3,4,7]

WHAT WILDLIFE WELFARE IS NOT

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to wildlife welfare, which keep the field from progressing. As mentioned, some conservationists do not see a place for wildlife welfare in conservation efforts since they focus on populations as a whole, and do not concern themselves on the individual level. However, both conservationists and animal welfarists believe that the same problems are the greatest threats to animals, like the human activities that lead to habitat destruction or alteration. So, although approaching the problems from different angles, both biological conservation and wildlife welfare reflect similar goals.

To be continued…

Click here for the list of references.

2019 here we come!

We had a wonderful year! Slowly things started falling into place after a bit of a chaotic ending of 2017. But, things started lining up. Animals and humans started getting used to our their new home. We had to say farewell to our most precious friend Isa in February, a bright star now in the Constellation of Sloth we can see from the sundeck. 19November had a baby, Beertje enjoys both the trees and the good food we give him. Jinkoe and Ostrich sleep sometimes at home, and most of the time spent looking for a breeze and fresh leaves in the forest. Angel and Rory were well trained by their foster mothers Ostrich and Jinkoe and decided they prefer the trees over the center.

Many animals passed through the center this year. We released some on the day of our opening on the 2nd of November by Roline Samsoedien, Minister of Spatial Planning, Land and Forest Management with assistance by District Commissioner of Saramacca, Laksmienarain Doebay, and the Permanent Secretary of her Ministry, Ms. Leandra Woei.

Our bus was knocked over at the end of November by an irresponsible driver. But we are not stopped in our tracks by this, we are continuing our work thanks to the wonderful cooperation among the volunteers and collaborators of Green Heritage Fund Suriname. And we are ending 2018 with even today (30th of Dec) two releases and will start the new year on a very positive note with a Medicine of Sloth Workshop for Veterinarians and a Wildlife Welfare Workshop for everyone who is interested. And many other activities moving the well-being and health of the animals and humans forward. Moving our bond with nature better into focus for us all to understand.

Thank you for your continued support and thoughts and activities to support us. We and the animals greatly appreciate your support. We particularly thank our partner Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V in supporting our work with the sloths, anteaters and armadillos.

We are wishing you a Green, Clean and Healthy 2019!

GHFS and Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.v. Renew Partnership

At the end of March the Surinamese and German NGO partners signed a new partnership agreement to continue the rescue and rehabilitation work of sloths, anteaters and armadillos in Suriname. The new agreement is partially a continuation of the previous agreement with Welttierschutzgesellschaft. The goals are to rescue, shelter and rehabilitate these typical South American mammals, and the new surroundings in a professional rescue center now pave the way for more emphasis on other elements of the partnership that include education and information, training and habitat protection. The rehabilitation centre will improve rehabilitation options of wildlife in Suriname. The soon to be officially opened rescue center, also referred to as the sloth wellness center, is to guarantee professional care in natural surroundings with quarantine and treatment rooms to minimize trauma caused by contact with humans, reducing rehabilitation time and thus improving survival chances for the sloths, anteaters and armadillos.


Under the supervision of Dr. Claudia Brieva a Surinamese two-fingered sloth receives medical care from South American veterinarians specialized in sloths, anteaters and armadillos.

Professionalization of Care

The center will be staffed by a full-time manager, one full-time animal caretaker and a part-time educator, assisted by always numerous GHFS volunteers. The professional staff will beresponsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the rescue center, ensuring that the animals receive proper care – for which the center is outfitted with an intensive care unit, an emergency care room and a special animal kitchen – maintaining facilities and equipment, and interacting with the public. In particular, the rescue center staff will foster good community relations. As the rescue center is first and foremost focused on the animals, the educator will work on a part-time basis as visitors will only be allowed to visit according to a restricted and limited visiting schedule.

Information and Awareness-raising

The professional rescue center will also serve as an educational center to teach visitors about consequences of habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. By teaching about the animals and their life history, more awareness will be created about their habitat’s complexity and its benefits to humans. People will also be informed about the impacts of pollution and destruction of the coastal swamp and mangrove forests for animal and human population. Saving patches of forest in the sprawling urban area to create a green corridor along the coast is a solution GHFS advocates for. The educational centre will also serve as training location for youth groups and school classes. Special emphasis will be put on the harmful effects of sloth and wildlife selfie tourism.In the long term the educational center will help establish a conservation and wildlife welfare ethic in Surinamese of all ages.

Training course in the Medicine of Sloths

Welttierschutzgesellschaft is supporting a course in the medicine of sloths for the professionals assisting GHFS with their treatment to provide optimal care to each animal. The metabolism of sloths and anteaters is so different from other mammals that providing medical care requires specialized training. For this purpose, Dra. Claudia Brieva, a lecturer at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia on wildlife medicine – with a specialization in sloths – will provide this training. The course theory will focus on the medical treatment of sloths, their welfare, medical parameters, and case studies will be discussed. The practical part would involve actual treatment of an animal. Vets targeted for this training are the vets already working with the GHFS and several that are new to the care of these animals and do not have any previous experience working with these animals. Vets practicing at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries will also be invited.

Sloth Action Plan


(c) Stellar Tsang @Green Heritage Fund Suriname

Within the agreement period a sloth action plan for Suriname will be initiated. Sloths, two species in Suriname – Bradypus tridactylus andCholoepus didactylus– are according to IUCN of least concern. However, these species are in the coastal zone of Suriname threatened, particularly by habitat loss, poaching, pet and bushmeat trade, and selfie tourism. Despite the fact that killing or capturing sloths for any purpose is against national laws. Unfortunately, institutional, social and economic decline, is causing wildlife to be under increasing pressure as urban and rural human populations engage in the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. The result of these activities is the elimination of wildlife, including sloths, from the rainforest and the reduction of suitable habitat. Seriously compromising the welfare of sloths and other animals sharing their habitat. To help to address these issues, the sloth action plan for Suriname aims to analyse the impediments to effective conservation of sloths, assess the status of the sloth populations, assess wild sloth welfare, look at strategic actions for sloth conservation through a threat analysis and threat ranking, make a conceptual model and develop intervention strategies, as well as a monitoring plan. This sloth action plan would then guide the work of GHFS in conjunction with the Nature Conservation Division and other partners and could serve as a model for other species action plans, such as anteaters.

Wildlife Welfare Workshop

Together with Welttierschutzgesellschaft a wildlife welfare workshop will be organized for and with a broader audience, including the Nature Conservation Division, other government agencies, other animal welfare groups, the private sector, and other interested stakeholders. The goal of this workshop is to raise awareness about wildlife welfare, in particular with regard to the species GHFS works with, as well as in a more general sense relating to all wildlife. Human activities or changes to the environment leading to welfare issues affecting wildlife and how this relates to issues of conservation, management and research will be highlighted. A roundtable on practical approaches for the alleviation and prevention of some of these welfare problems will be part of this workshop. The output of this workshop in the form of a document could provide a basis for wildlife welfare considerations to be integrated in rules/regulations on specific human activities, such as deforestation.

Measures of Success


(c) Stellar Tsang @ Green Heritage Fund Suriname

The short-term goal is to give increasingly better care to ill and wounded sloths, anteaters and armadillos. As human actions cause animals to become orphaned or get in trouble, at first the rehab center will be outfitted so that it can handle on average 100 animals per year to be rescued, cared for, rehabilitated and prepared for life in the wild again. The long-term goal of the rehabilitation center is to make itself superfluous. This means that the average citizen is aware that “wild animals belong in the wild”, meaning that the center should not receive more than 50 animals per year (reduction of 50%) and that the focus of the center will be increasingly on education, research and awareness. Such a success would include a green corridor in the city for in-situ conservation.

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