Rat Poisoning Gone Wrong in Nickerie? – A Major Threat to Wildlife, Livestock, and Human Health and Well-being

Source: Sykes, J. E., Reagan, K. L., Nally, J. E., Galloway, R. L., & Haake, D. A. (2022). Role of Diagnostics in Epidemiology, Management, Surveillance, and Control of Leptospirosis. Pathogens, 11(4), 395. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/pathogens11040395

The western District of Nickerie has been struggling with a rat invasion for several months, leading to several human deaths due to Weil’s disease. Although a suggestion was made to introduce cats, which are notoriously absent in the rice district, this practical and nature-friendly remedy still needs to be adopted. In the meantime, the rat population continued to grow and wreak havoc on the rice district’s agricultural harvests.

Rat poison

In a well-intended but maybe misguided gesture, 500 kilograms of rat poison was donated to the rice district. To date (2 January 2023), 10 cows and 17 goats have died mysteriously. According to Parliamentarian Yogi in an article on Starnieuws: “Rat poisoning should be carried out under the supervision of experts. And it must be checked that the correct pesticide is used.”

Dr. Julian Pengel, neurologist, believes: “…that the choice of an anticoagulant is the right one. If one starts to use neurotoxins, you are really on the wrong path! That is according to the scenario that was described of what happened. The farmers purchased illegal poisons at first. ”

He continues and emphatically states: “Neurotoxins (acetylcholine esterase inhibitors), instead of blood-clotting agents (coumarin anticoagulants), should never be used for this purpose! Firstly, these substances are water-soluble in contrast to blood-clotting agents, and can therefore spread more quickly and, for example, end up in water that humans and animals consume. Secondly, it is a far too dangerous poison which, in the event of accidents, is hardly treatable for humans and animals and often ends fatally.”

Rat poison, also known as rodenticide, is a widespread and harmful pest control product used to kill rats, mice, and other rodents. Rat poison poses a severe risk to non-target animals, including birds of prey, carnivores, and even humans, due to its toxic and persistent effects.

According to recent studies and reports, rat poison can cause various adverse effects on wildlife, livestock, and the ecosystem. For example, rat poison can be ingested by predatory animals that feed on poisoned rodents, leading to a process called “secondary poisoning,” which can cause internal bleeding, organ damage, and death. Rat poison can also affect animals’ reproductive and immune systems and impair their behavior and cognitive abilities.

Rat poison can be harmful to livestock if ingested. Livestock may accidentally eat rat poison if left in an area where they have access to it or eat feed contaminated with it. Ingestion of rat poison can lead to various symptoms in livestock, including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, tremors, seizures, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, ingestion of rat poison can be fatal to livestock.

Furthermore, rat poison can contaminate the soil, water, and plants and enter the food chain, affecting the health and survival of many species, including endangered ones. Rat poison can also pose a risk to humans, especially children, who consume contaminated food or water or come into contact with poisoned animals, including pets.

Some rat poison products contain warfarin, bromadiolone, or coumatetralyl, anticoagulant chemicals that interfere with blood clotting, causing internal bleeding and death. These poisons can be lethal to humans in high doses. They may require hospitalization and treatment, such as vitamin K injections, to reverse their effects.

One Health Approach

Because of these impacts, adopting a One Health approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health and promotes the use of safer and more sustainable pest control methods is essential.

One Health strategies can include:

  • Sanitation: Keep one’s property clean and free of food debris and clutter. Rats are attracted to food and shelter, so maintaining a clean environment will make it less attractive to them.
  • Habitat modification: Removing sources of shelter and food for rats, such as piles of wood or debris, can help reduce their population.
  • Exclusion: Sealing holes and gaps in buildings and other structures can prevent rats from entering and nesting on one’s property.
  • Hiring a rat catcher can be an effective way to remove rats from one’s property and prevent them from returning, without relying on chemicals or other potentially harmful methods. However, it’s important to ensure that the rat catcher uses humane methods to capture and remove the rats, and that any trapped rats are released in a suitable location away from human habitation.
  • Education and awareness: Educating people in the community about the importance of One Health and the steps they can take to prevent rat infestations can help reduce the spread of these pests.
  • Collaboration: Working with other stakeholders, such as local authorities, health professionals, and environmental organizations, can help coordinate efforts to control rat infestations and address other One Health issues in the community.
  • Encouraging natural predators of rats, such as owls and snakes, to live on one’s property can be an effective method of controlling rat infestations in agricultural areas. This approach aligns with the principles of One Health, as it involves considering the interconnections between human, animal, and environmental health and taking a holistic approach to addressing health issues.

By encouraging natural predators to live on one’s farm, one can help control the rat population in a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable way, without relying on chemicals or other potentially harmful methods. However, it’s important to consider the potential impacts on other species and the ecosystem as a whole when encouraging the presence of natural predators.

It is also important to consider the potential impacts on the ecosystem as a whole when removing rats from an area. In some cases, removing rats from an ecosystem can have unintended consequences, such as triggering a population explosion of another species that was previously kept in check by the rats. Therefore, it’s important to consider the potential ecological impacts of rat control measures and to take a cautious, well-informed approach.

Dr. Pengel emphasizes: “…that there needs to be better regulation and control on the use of poisons. And that the use of poison should be restricted, and preferably the alternative measures mentioned in the One Health approach should be taken. According to Pengel, the decision to work with poison is the right one for this mass disruption. But we should not always go for this rigorous method!”

We can protect the health and well-being of all living beings and preserve the balance and diversity of our planet by addressing the issue of rat infestations comprehensively and collaboratively.

PREZODE Initiative

Green Heritage Fund Suriname is a member of the PREZODE (Preventing ZOonotic Disease Emergence) initiative. Prezode is an innovative international initiative that aims to understand the risks of emerging zoonotic infectious diseases. Prezode wishes to develop and implement innovative methods to improve prevention, early detection, and resilience to ensure rapid response to the risks of emerging infectious diseases of animal origin. GHFS calls on the Surinamese government to become a signatory of the Prezode Initiative.

Advice:

It is essential to use caution when using rat poison and to store it in a place where it is not accessible to livestock. You should contact a veterinarian for treatment if you suspect your livestock may have ingested rat poison.

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.

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.

An anteater on the mailbox

May 24th 2022

Today, we received a notification of an anteater, which was found in the middle of a residential area. The person who found the anteater was very concerned with the animal’s safety. He had called several organizations to collect the animal. Fortunately, one of them referred him to us. As soon as we were called, we immediately got into the car to go to the animal.

We had already spotted the anteater from the car and we saw a gentleman waving at us a few meters away. He had set up a bowl of water for the animal and had even chased the dogs from the neighbourhood away, in order to keep the animal safe.

 

The anteater was sitting by the mailbox and had been given a bowl of water.

Monique Pool, the director of GHFS, first tried to catch the animal with the net. The anteater then climbed down the fence, making it more difficult to catch the animal with the net. It was easier to catch the animal with the gloves. Less than five minutes later, the animal was captured and we were able to take it with us so we can release it back to the wild as soon as possible!

Monique Pool tries to catch the animal with the net

Monique Pool tries to catch the animal with the gloves

A Mother’s Day Miracle in French Guiana

A beautiful Mother’s day story to show how important the bond is between a mother sloth and her baby.

When Laure from French Guiana reached out to us about an abandoned baby sloth in a forest near her home, we knew we needed to spring into action. Read how we helped Laure reunite a scared, baby sloth with his mother in the forest of Javouhey. 

Laure walked outside just a few meters before she noticed a small baby sloth

After living on the outskirts of a forest in Javouhey, French Guiana for six months, Laure has grown accustomed to hearing the chirps and howls and all of the other sounds that come from the wilderness. But when she heard the small cries of a baby creature from inside of her home, Laure knew something wasn’t quite right—and decided to take a look. 

Laure walked outside just a few meters before she noticed a small baby sloth sitting on the ground, screaming out sad, scared cries. She looked up into the canopy and noticed a large, female sloth—the baby’s mother—but the mother wasn’t alone. She was fighting with another sloth high in the tree-tops while her baby cried out for her on the ground. With predators lurking everywhere in the forest, Laure was too scared to leave the little baby behind. 

“I stayed for one or two hours because I was so afraid that an animal would come and eat the baby. I left the forest briefly, but after a while I returned, hopeful that the mother had taken her baby with her. When I returned, the little baby was still crying on the ground while the mom had climbed even higher than before—and a tayra had even arrived on the scene! I think it must have heard the baby sloth crying. I couldn’t stand to watch the baby cry for his mother, so I decided to take him in for the night.” 

Laure put the baby sloth to sleep in a box with a teddy bear inside of her home, where he slept comfortably throughout the night. But she knew that the baby’s best chance for a long, happy life was a reunion with his mother—so she decided to reach out to us. 

“I have heard that some babies are reunited with their mothers thanks to the baby’s cries, and I hope to try tomorrow in the early morning,” she wrote. “He is so small, tinier than a human hand, and he really needs his mother—how can I interest her in taking her baby back?”

As our team knows all too well, sometimes mothers are forced to abandon their babies due to a lack of good leaf quality due to drought. Our director, Monique, wrote back and warned Laure of this possibility while sharing advice for the best chance of a successful reunion:
“Dear Laure, 
Please try to reunite the baby with the mother. Maybe you can record the baby’s cry and play it over a loudspeaker to the mother until she comes down to get her baby. Please keep the baby warm at night, around a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius. Please be careful that you do not make the temperature too high, because the baby cannot regulate its own temperature. If you have goat’s milk, you can give the baby some drops of goat’s milk with a pipette.” 

The baby sees the mother high up in the tree.

After reading Monique’s advice carefully, Laure put the baby sloth to sleep with warm milk. Determined to give the baby his best chance of survival, she rose well before sunset the next morning and made her way to the forest. Around seven o’clock in the morning, she began playing the baby’s recorded cries from her computer, hopeful that it would attract the mother’s attention and draw her back to the place she last saw her baby. At 5 pm, Laure gave up and decided to return home.  As she walked back through the forest, bringing the baby with her, Laure noticed that it was hard for him to listen to the sound of his own, pained cries. As the evening sun began to set, Laure’s hope in a happy reunion began to dwindle. Almost home, she was stopped in her tracks when something magical happened. 

“As I was walking, I noticed two sloths sitting across a small river near my house, and I decided to give it one more shot. I placed the baby on the ground and hid behind a bush. The baby began to cry out, and the female sloth began to move, slowly but with determination, across the river over the canopy. She climbed down the trunk of the tree, and I moved as quietly as I could—just a few meters further away—to witness one of the most beautiful moments of my life. The baby saw his mother and began to cry out. I swear, his cries changed, and it sounded like he was saying “ma-ma.” When she put her feet on the ground, his mother began to blow or growl … so loud that I wondered if there was a jaguar nearby! Thankfully, I never found out why the mother was growling. I watched as she put her feet on a small tree and stretched out in a horizontal position. She smelt the baby and took him up with her arm. Then she turned around, put her arm with the baby on her tummy, and curled up. She smelt him again and wrapped him up in a big hug. She looked around one last time while her baby wrapped his arms around her neck, and then she crossed the canopy to the other side of the river with her baby holding on tight. I have no videos and no photos of this moment because my battery had died, but it is no matter—today was perfect. I remember it so vividly, it’s as if I had a camera in my head. It was a perfect ending!” 

A perfect ending, indeed—what a beautiful way to celebrate Mother’s Day. Thanks to Laure for sharing her beautiful story and for her hard work in reuniting this baby with his mother.

With thanks to Laure for sharing her story, Presley West for editing and Jacquelyn Briggs for her beautiful illustrations

These drawings are a mother’s day present from Laure.

Celebrating the life of Jinkoe

The first day Jinkoe was weighed.

On the 26th of June 2017, which was a national holiday in my country, I was called by an outpatient caretaker. While visiting a patient she had seen a baby sloth in a bush along the road, and when she saw it again on her way back, all wet and alone, she decided that she would take it along and bring it to me. She called, on her way back from the patient, and asked if she could bring the animal. When the bus from the outpatient healthcare facility stopped in front of my door, it was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I was alone in the house, taking care of the different animals we had around. When she came in, I had not expected to see such a tiny animal. Often people say they have a baby sloth for us, and then they show up with fully grown adults. Which I guess attests to their cuteness as a species, which is definitely not always in their favor. The family name of the rescuer was Jinkoe, so I decided to call this animal Jinkoe. The animal looked as if it had just been born, the face still all wrinkled. If we were successful in keeping the animal alive, this baby would be one of the first animals to grow up in the sloth rescue center, instead of my living room in the city.

Almost one week later, we were called by the Paramaribo Zoo that they had found a baby sloth in the fence of the Ostrich enclosure. They had looked for the mother in the trees, but had not found her. So I went to the zoo and picked up this baby which was a bit more sturdy than Jinkoe and appeared to be maybe a month older. This animal that was called Ostrich after the location where it was found, was each night put in the same incubator in which we kept Jinkoe at night. The two animals started to become attached to each other, and we could see that although they each had their own surrogate sloth mother, they would sometimes sit together and hold on to each other. During the move on the 31stof July 2017 they were left behind with one of our volunteers in the city, and they were going to be picked up, as soon as we would be more or less settled a few days later.

Jinkoe in her new sloth wellness center home.

When we moved these two babies to the sloth center, we did not yet have electricity, because the batteries for storing the energy were delayed, as they had fallen off a truck while being transported to the supplier in Holland. So each night they were brought to the incubator that was located temporarily in one of the houses at the front of our drive-way one km away. In the morning, when we picked them up, we would find some fresh leaves from the Inga tree species. They immediately starting chewing, boy, did they love these leaves! Finally, mid October our solar system was installed and working. The incubator was moved to the center, and the animals were no longer brought up and down the road to their nightly sleepover in the incubator. Now Jinkoe and Osje were here to stay all the day around. Slowly, but surely Ostrich was growing and Jinkoe stayed behind. We were so worried that she would not make it, because she obviously had missed some crucial first weeks with her mother. However, as time passed by we could see that she was maybe getting whatever it was she needed from her BFF, Ostrich.

Jinkoe enjoying the leaves around the center.

Her face, which remained for the longest while underdeveloped somehow, started finally to develop. And while Ostrich, the bigger of the two, liked to lounge and enjoy the food she was given. Isa, who had also moved there with us, was the bigger sister, who would sit with the two of them in the jungle gym, and she would sometimes venture out into the tree. Jinkoe started following her example, while Ostrich would not venture further than the jungle gym, even though she was bigger and should be more mature. , Jinkoe started exploring more and more, and started wandering off into the forest in search of fresh leaves herself. Jinkoe would first crawl over the terrace towards the Cecropia tree right in front of the building – we devised a special bridge for them – so they could come and go as they wished. Then she started venturing out to the back terrace, into a palm tree and then she would disappear for a few days.

It was a pleasure to see how she was growing and how one year later, in July of 2018, Jinkoe had now become a big and independent sloth. A female, and although she did not take to Angel, a new baby arrival in July 2018. She did take to baby Rory who arrived several weeks after Angel. Rory would sit with her, and she would take Rory out into the trees. We were worried when we saw she came back without Rory on one of these trips. But when we saw Rory again and brought her back home, Rory went straight for the terrace and followed the route Jinkoe had taught her and left again. Her adventures with Jinkoe had clearly shown her a faster way to maturity than Jinkoe and Ostrich had experienced. Likewise did Angel. Angel was lugged over the floor by Ostrich, every time Ostrich would leave Angel, the animal would start crying for her surrogate mother. However, one fine day, as the two of them left for the trees, Ostrich came back without Angel. Angel had suddenly matured and decided to stay in the trees. Only a month ago, did we see Angel back again.

Jinkoe and Ostrich spending a night at home.

Jinkoe and Ostrich were now often more in the trees than in their buckets or the jungle gym at the center. However, they liked coming home. Ostrich was staying longer and longer in the trees and Jinkoe also often stayed for almost a week at a time in the trees. Then something happened that we had not anticipated. As of January 2019 an unusual drought was experienced. We had an unusual number of rescues with many animals in poor condition. We had our largest number of underweight infants abandoned by their mothers ever. We were rescuing animals at the rate of almost one a day, and giving many of them additional fluids. Meanwhile at the center everything seemed to be normal.

Jinkoe would often venture home, we would feed her, and she would leave again. Nothing seemed unusual. Sometimes she was home, together with her BFF Ostrich and they would together lounge in the big bucket they could always call their home. Nothing seemed unusual. And then I received a call, Jinkoe had fallen out of the Cecropia tree right in front of the building and she was not responding well, as she was lying on her back. She was immediately brought to the city, as we could not reach the veterinary doctor in our district, and we could not wait. Veterinary Audrey gave her a full check up, and was not very positive. She gave her subcutaneous fluids and she started responding again. The animal had apparently lost a lot of weight and appeared to be very skinny and was dehydrated. The animal was brought to my house as she had to be treated again the following day. She had to drink. How would I get her to drink? And I suddenly remembered how crazy these animals were for the milk we had given them when they were small. So I gave her some of the milk and she started to drink.

In the weeks that followed we kept her under constant monitoring, were providing her with additional food and fluids, and were hoping that the neurological problems caused by the fall would heal in approximately a month. When I visited the center on Good Friday, I noticed she was not doing so well. Although she enthusiastically ate, I still felt that her energy was failing her, and her kidneys seemed to give her problems. Maybe the dehydration had caused damage to her kidneys, and she had to cope with that in addition to healing from the fall. On Saturday evening, I could see she was not going to make it, she was in pain. We gave her a painkiller. When I left that evening I knew I would not see her back alive.

Jinkoe lounging at home not long before her fall.

I wanted to write her life history, because when I received Jinkoe, I had great doubts whether she would make it. She did, she became one of the first inhabitants of the sloth rescue center. The center did her well, while in the city she probably would not have made it. The environment of the center and the forest surrounding it, created for a baby like her the chances to survive. She owned the sloth center, and she owned the forest. However, as she was less sturdy and resilient, the unusual drought caused by climate change may have cut her life short. On balance, I am convinced that Jinkoe had a good life. And I will miss seeing her in the forest and her home.

A Special Guest

By Ted van Hooff

‘There’s a sloth in a car tire above the water behind my house.’ We find sloths in the strangest places. When Eric calls us about the guest that has been staying in his backyard for the last couple of days, we know we’ve got a special case at our hands.

When we arrive at Eric’s home near the Suriname River, we are greeted by five large but friendly dogs. That explains a lot.

Our mission is clear: getting the animal out of the tire without Monique, Eric or the sloth taking to the seas. The dogs are sent inside and the catch pole, net and crate are laid out. Eric’s wife, son and employee assist us. Optimistically, the six of us set to work.

The sloth is less optimistic. He disentangles himself from the noose – a unique achievement – and returns the net. After a brief wrestling match he grants us the victory and reluctantly lets himself be lowered into the crate. The job is done.

Eric treats us to homemade lime juice and as we sit at the garden table he proudly tells us about the nature that surrounds his home. The sloth is christened Henderic.

Meanwhile, Henderic has been doing a lot better. He recovered from his adventure at the sloth wellness center and was released near Bloemendaal the next day, where he is happily hanging from a branch, unhindered by dogs and catch poles.

Thank you Sigfried

By Ted van Hooff

When Sigfried, a cock who is always alert, starts to crow at a tree in a backyard in South Paramaribo, his owners suspect something is wrong. Sigfried has spotted an intruder: a three-fingered sloth is hanging lonely on a branch.

 

 

The Green Heritage Fund is called in. While Sigfried is kept at a distance with a broom – no intruder is safe in his yard – Monique climbs into the tree to catch the sloth. It is an emaciated male with nails that are too short. Most likely someone kept him as a pet. Long nails are considered a danger when keeping an animal like this at home and for that reason they are often cut off.

 

 

The sloth will gain his strengths in the sloth shelter of Green Heritage Fund Suriname in Groningen and ultimately be released into the forest where he belongs. But before that happens, his nails have to be long enough. He needs them to groom his fur and to be able to climb. As a result of his slow metabolism, the nails of sloths grow very slowly. It may take up to two years before this animal can climb around in the forest again with proper nails.

Thanks to Sigfried’s alertness that day will for sure come.

 

Urban Forest Fragments

World Wildlife Day 2019

This map shows the area where the sloth rescue took place and also the 1969 layer in yellow and 2015 layer in light green

In observance of World Wildlife Day on Sunday, the 3rdof March, we wanted to share with you some of our thoughts on wildlife in urban areas. After the 2012 rescue, we were left startled at the sheer number of animals rescued, and exhausted from the work involved in rescuing, rehabilitating, caring and releasing 133 animals. Already during the rescue, we had discussions about this fragment and others that were not yet deforested. Together with Ari Vreedzaam and Chantal Landburg we were brainstorming ideas as we all were convinced of the importance of these forest fragments for urban biodiversity and conservation. 

As a follow-up, GHFS started working with students to do more research on the forest fragments, focusing on particular on two privately owned fragments of 18 and 30 hectare. One student conducted a transect study, put up camera-traps and interviewed the adjacent human population with regard to the biodiversity seen in the forest fragment, that was not far from the 2012 deforested plot. A second study was abandoned after the preliminary stage, as the student in the end lacked time to do the transects. However, the exploration of the 18 ha forest fragments was promising. A third study was focused on one specific xenarthra species, the giant anteater.

As part of the paper Sloths in the City, we looked at the satellite imagery and the historic evolution of the forest fragment where the 2012 rescue took place. That gave us the idea to look at other forest fragments and to map all forest fragments in Greater Paramaribo. Roshni Adjodhia spent many long hours behind the computer screen mapping in Google Earth Pro all forest fragments on historic satellite imagery of 1969, 2003, 2009 and 2015. A preliminary analysis by one of our volunteers found that there were more forest fragments in 2015 than in 1969. In fact, there was an increase in green space. This was a surprising fact, because from our rescues I could tell forest was disappearing in the urban space.

Adjacent forest fragments in the area where the 2012 sloth rescue took place

However, the puzzle of the increasing green space was solved a little bit when we were called in 2016 by a couple who were deforesting a plot of land. They wanted to ensure that any animals on the land would be saved. Together with a game warden I went out to the land where we met the owners. As we drove up, we immediately concluded that in the secondary growth present, no sloths would be found. Only at the very back, where there appeared to be still some original forest remaining, we thought animals would find the right kind of habitat. The story they told us, however, shed some light on the increase in forest fragments on our maps. In 1975, prior to the independence of Suriname many farmers left for Holland, and abandoned their agricultural plots. These plots then became overgrown again, and started appearing on our maps as forest fragments. This confirmed that a ground-truthing of these forest fragments would be crucial to find out where to focus our work.

At the end of 2016, we finally submitted our paper “Sloths in the City”, and were just in time for the publication in Edentata 17. At the end of our paper we proposed five theories. First, that it was possible that historical clear-cutting of the surrounding region may have provided opportunities for the establishment of early successional plant species like Cecropiaand sweet potato vines (Ipomoeaspp.). Second, that the lack of predators in this “urban” location,e.g., harpy eagles, arboreal cats, large snakes, etc. might allow for a substantial increase in population size. Third, that the density may be linked to rates of encounters and matings between males and females. Thus, higher density may foster population growth, especially in the absence of limiting resources or predators. Fourth, that the high density may have resulted from contraction and migration of animals from surrounding areas—an artifact of urbanization collapsing a more dispersed and less dense sloth population inward to the only remaining forested refuge. The fifth option, could be that all of these factors could operate together. Thus, sloth densities in the wild may be much higher than previously recorded, and urbanization processes may have the potential to artificially increase them further. The conclusion, was indeed that further research would be needed.

Although our paper was published in 2016, in 2015 we already had formulated a proposal together with George Middendorf and with input also of Nadia de Moraes-Barros, that was directed at securing the habitat of sloths in the urban space. The work was directed towards four different aims and objectives. 

1. promote the continued existence of viable coastal sloth populations in the wild in Greater Paramaribo;

2. prevent the decline of coastal sloth habitats, among others, by providing for the rehabilitation of cleared or otherwise disturbed sloth habitats in Greater Paramaribo;

3. promote future land use and development that is compatible with the survival of coastal sloth populations in Greater Paramaribo; and

4. providing policy direction and management approaches to address key threatening processes.

How to achieve these aims and objectives?

Our work will focus on five areas. First, we need to cover the scientific basics, by conducting research and conservation. This will include a conservation genetic analysis, geographical analysis, ecological analysis of forest fragments, a biological analysis, and of course rehabilitation and shelter. The second area is legislation and policy-makers, where we will analyse the legal framework and work on improving the stakeholders network. Thirdly, we need communications, for strengthening of lines of communication and the diffusion of information, we need communication strategies to allow the general public to get closer to sloths, and we need communication as a tool to diminish threats. The fourth area will focus on education and community participation, which will include education and community participation. And the fifth area will focus on administration and institutional strengthening, bringing together decisionmakers and local stakeholders. This is all closely related to what normally happens around species action planning. 

Sloth Action Plan

Two species of sloths are found in Suriname, the pale-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) and Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus). According to the IUCN both are of “least concern”, indicating that neither species is considered endangered or threatened. There are concerns, however, as both species occupy Suriname’s coastal zone which itself is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, pet and bushmeat trade, and selfie tourism. In addition, the entire coastal region, because it is extremely low-lying, is threatened by sea-level rise associated with climate change. 

Despite the fact that killing or capturing of sloths for any purpose is against national laws, sloth populations are under increasing pressure as urban and rural human populations expand within the coastal region and engage in the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. The activities seriously threaten regional wildlife, including and perhaps especially sloths. Each urban and semi-urban forest and forest fragment cleared for development and agriculture reduces suitable habitat for sloths. Each road and development exposes these slow-moving animals to the potential for becoming roadkill. Changes in the vegetation through cutting, development, construction and alteration increases the likelihood of landscape change and alterations of floral diversity. These, in turn, affect the vegetation needed to sustain these unique species.

To address these issues, the sloth action plan for Suriname would 

  1. assess the current status of the sloth populations (current knowledge, priority populations, knowledge gaps), 
  2. determine and rank threats to these populations 
  3. construct a conceptual model for developing intervention strategies
  4. analyse the impediments to effective conservation of sloths, 
  5. develop a strategic action plan for sloth conservation, and 
  6. based on assessment, assign priorities for action.

The resulting monitoring plan/action plan would guide GHFS collaboration with the Nature Conservation Division and other organizations—and as such, could serve as a model for other species action plans, e.g. anteaters.

 

A sloth called Cliff

It looks like a beautiful late afternoon with a view over the river

A sloth called Cliff

Kenneth started calling me at the end of December 2018 about a two-fingered sloth that was of concern to him. The animal had been around his family’s house in the trees, but sometimes also in the ceiling of the house. He said he thought it had been around for at least 12 months. He and his family were not so much scared of the animal, but they were worried that one of the neighbours was going to shoot it.

I told him the animal probably liked staying there, and he should not worry, it would find a way to a better patch. He called again at the beginning of February, but we were over at the center and we would not be able to get to him before dark, and our volunteer vet who is living in his area, was just boarding a plane. So again, no assistance to help this animal. However, Kenneth did not give up, he really wanted this animal to be relocated to a place where there would be no immediate threat to it.

So this time when Kenneth called, I finally was able to get there before dark, as I was in town and I just had to get our equipment. As my telephone was giving me trouble, I did not look at the pictures he sent. So when we finally arrived at 6:30 PM, this is what we saw. A sloth hanging onto a pillar that was standing in the water. How did it get there? It was clear that if it had swum there, it had now dried up, because it was definitely not wet. However, it did not look comfortable. Our first attempt to approach it, got our volunteer George stuck almost knee deep in the soft mud at the water’s edge that was hiding under a layer of sand. A boat seemed to be our only solution to help this animal from this uncomfortable location.

A sloth called Cliff

Kenneth’s father said he had a long pole that we could offer to the animal so it could climb on it and come back to shore. And indeed, the animal sniffed the pole, because it was metal, and it of course did not feel like a tree branch, but in the end it decided to try it and came climbing along the pole to shore. When it was close enough George caught it in our net. It was definitely not happy about this. We tried to remove the net, but it was stuck in the net that had a hole. So we decided to cut the net loose from the pole. We managed to get the animal into the kennel and we spent two days to carefully remove the net from the animal. On Saturday the animal was released and it definitely was happy to be climbing in trees again far from humans.

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