Baby Sloth and Mom re-unite, a happy ending and beginning!
Whenever one year ends and another one begins we tend to reflect upon the past year’s achievements and make goals for the future. However, rather than go through a laundry list our triumphs and failures from 2016, I would like to focus on the present and share a simple story. A few weeks ago we received a phone call from a nearby hotel, a mom and baby sloth had fallen and the mom shot back up the tree leaving her tiny baby behind! I asked them to please leave the baby where it was and stay with it to keep it safe until we arrived. Minutes later at the scene of the fall, we witnessed a TINY baby three-fingered sloth about half-way up a tree dangling from a thin branch. It would every once in a while utter a very soft and pitiful cry, but mom was nowhere in sight. At this point I asked to borrow a ladder and had it set up in the tree just in case we needed to grab the baby and then I asked everyone to please leave. This tree was already adjacent to a busy road and with all of the earlier commotion, if we were going to have any chance of reuniting mom and the baby sloth we needed there to be no audience.
We then walked about 10 meters away and hid in the bushes, not moving and not making a sound. I scanned the area with my binoculars and to my delight spotted a female three-fingered sloth about two trees away, resting in a ball! Within minutes of the area emptying out the ridiculously small baby started to cry short, quick, high pitched squeals. I saw the female sloth’s head turn towards his direction with each screech. I began to get hopeful. After a few minutes, the tiny squeals turned into loud screams and at this point, the female moved her body and started climbing towards the baby. I began to silently fist pump the air. Over and over the baby sloth screamed as loud as possible and wiggled on the tiny branch while mom steadfastly made her way towards him. I was so excited I was about to burst, but I didn’t make a sound for fear of ruining this reunion. We faithfully scanned the area to ensure no one approached, we were ready physically block people from the area if necessary. With tears in my eyes, I continued to watch as the mom eventually made her way over to the baby, right before our watchful gaze a mother sloth was coming to rescue her baby. It was incredible!
Finally, within arms reach of each other, the moment we all had been waiting for was about to happen. Then, just as the baby sloth reaches over to grab the moms fur, the tiny branch baby is on breaks and he loses his balances and tumbles to the ground! Gasping, I shoot up and run over, slowing down just enough to scoop the baby with one hand, then continue straight to the ladder. Making my way up the wobbly ladder I look at mom hoping she won’t leave before I can get the baby back up to where she is hanging. Finally at the top of the ladder, mom and I are at the same height. I look at her, she looks at me knowing I have her baby she reaches over and climbs closer. I stretch my arm out as far as it will go whispering, “please take him, please take him”. Simultaneously, her arm stretches towards me as if to say, “I’m right here, I’m right here”. Both of our outstretched arms touch and baby starts to transfer but I make sure to hold on until he has a firm grasp of his mom. His tiny little claw hands cling to her fur like velcro, as he lets go of my hand the rest of his body swings onto her belly and just like that, he’s attached! Finally, together again, mom and baby make their way back up the tree and I make my way back down the ladder, shaking from the adrenaline rush. Once at the top of the tree, mom stopped to rest and baby sloth was able to readjust comfortably on her belly and for a few minutes all seemed right in the world.
So often we, humans, seem perplexed by the ways we negatively affect the environment. The sloths are present, therefore they must be ok. But when you look deeper into the issue you realize we affect everything. Not a single animal that lives in a human encroached environment goes unaltered. From trimming trees, to new diseases, to noise and light pollution, to crowds gathered and roads built, we are changing the environment in ways we can’t always perceive. Sloth mothers get a notoriously ‘bad reputation’ as being bad mothers because too often they are separated from their babies but aren’t able to get down and get them back. Sloths are slow prey species (especially three fingered sloths) and baby sloths are even slower and in addition, uncoordinated. It is very easy for them to get separated from mom and not be able to get back to her if mom has initiated her ‘flight response’. In human encroached areas, there is often a crowd of tourists to witness the mom ‘rejecting’ her baby, but in reality the commotion created by a crowd of people and the trauma of the original event that caused the separation has caused mom to think the baby has already been ‘eaten by a predator’ and all hope is lost as she retreats as fast as possible to safety. Sometimes the best way we can help is by keeping a watchful eye while we let things resolve naturally; only interfering when necessary.
This story represents everything about why The Sloth Institute exists and why we wake up each morning, ready to fight another day for sloth conservation: studying their behavior is important, knowing the way humans negatively affect their environment is important, and most of all doing everything in our power to keep and return them to the wild. All too often, humans are the ones that get animals into trouble, therefore we are morally obligated to be the ones to get them out. But we must always take their natural instincts and ecology into consideration and reflect on how our own actions constantly affect the environment that we all share.