A Day of firsts and Miracle births

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Somedays I am so amazed and in awe of the work I get to do. I wanted to share it all with you.

Two days ago, miraculously, I participated in something that was most likely a world first: the successful c-section of a three-toed sloth baby.  I want to share this story for others—here it is  from my point of view:

A week ago we received an adult female three toed sloth at the KSTR wildlife rescue clinic.  The sloth was brought by a young man who worked for a local hotel.  He witnessed her fall from a tree.  After trying to help her get back up and climb to her safety, he realized something more was wrong and called us for help.  At first sight this sloth captivated my heart…she was having a seizure, but I swear we made eye contact and instantly I was hooked.  At the time this was the first sloth seizure I had ever seen and true to sloth nature, it was a ‘slow’ seizure.  It was more like a neurotic tick than a typical seizure seen in human and non-human primates.  Upon examination I determined that she had not fractured her skull (yay!) and that she was pregnant (not so yay).  After speaking with our vet, I started her medications and of course supportive care.  Now it became a waiting game.  A few days later she wasn’t looking much better.  Her eyes were bright and her lungs sounded good, she just wasn’t moving much and still had some rigidity to her limbs.  Her prognosis was not good and euthanasia was even discussed.  I’ve seen a lot of animals pass away during the two years that I’ve worked in wildlife rescue here in Costa Rica and after each death I often think, “how can I keep doing this?  It’s too hard” but somehow I find the will to keep fighting.  That day, I wanted to keep fighting for this mom and her unborn baby, my gut told me not to give up.  Two days later mom started to show signs of labor.  I’ve never seen a sloth have contractions, but these ‘painful moments’ where her entire body seemed to be cramping and her arms reached out for anything to squeeze…really seemed like contractions to me!  So I started documenting when they started and when they ended.  But I couldn’t help but wonder if she could successfully have the baby with her prior injuries?  Was a difficult pregnancy why she fell in the first place?  The contractions were all over the place.  There was no real pattern.  After 24 hours of documenting her pain, she had an hour-long contraction, that was so intense, multiple times I thought at any moment her vagina would start to open and a head would crown.  However, the contraction ended and still no baby.  It became obvious to me that more diagnostics were needed in order to determine how best we could help this momma.

Luckily, Volunteer, Sloth lover and friend; Seda Sejud serendipitously showed up to visit our newly built “Sloth Bootcamp”.  But when I saw her I immediately asked, “Would you be able to take me and this Momma sloth to a vet about an hour from here?  I think she is in labor and needs help.”  Seda responded with a quick “yes” and off we went!

We arrived at Veterinarian Yesse Alpizar, in Herradura.  I’ve taken other patients to Yesse before.  She is one of the kindest and smartest vets I’ve met and she also happens to have a clinic equipped with a digital X-ray and ultrasound machine.   After getting a complete history on momma sloth, Yesse examined her and agreed with me that she was in labor.  We first took an X-ray.  It was amazing to see the little life inside of mom’s belly…but unfortunately the baby was in a breech position and mom was completely full of urine and feces (sloths can hold up to 30% of their body weight in urine/feces) meaning that the baby changing position wasn’t likely.  At this point, c-section was discussed but we needed to check the baby with an ultrasound to confirm a heartbeat and the exact position.  With the first swipe of the ultrasound probe, we didn’t see a heartbeat.  My heart sank.  Just one day before I had felt the baby move inside of mom’s belly.  So I knew that recently it was alive and I could only hope that it still was.  Yesse kept swiping the probe around mom’s belly searching and searching for a tiny flicker of the heart.  Was the baby still alive?!?

Luckily, I brought my camera…

Sloth Baby Breach

Xray showed that baby was breeched.

Sloth Mum ready for ultrasound

Momma sloth, patiently laying there for the ultrasound. Because of mom’s previous injuries she wasn’t able to fight much but we made every effort to keep her comfortable.

Sloth Ultrasound

Baby had a heartbeat!

Ready to perform a csection on the sloth

After some deliberation and consultation with other vets, the decision to perform a c-section was made. To our knowledge this may likely be the first ever c-section on a wild three toed sloth.


Sloth Csection

Because sloths can lose up to 30% of their body weight with one ‘visit to the toilet’, their bladders get REALLY big and can fill up their abdominal cavity. Surgeons had to remove over 100mls of urine from her bladder before they could reach the uterus.

Sloth Csection

Dr Yesse located the uterus easily and began to extract the baby.


Sloth csection

Baby was completely out and already trying to breathe!


Sloth cesction

Mom receiving oxygen after the operation.


Sloth Cesction

Removing intrauterine tissues from between her claws.


Sloth Csection

Doctors work quickly to try and remove any fetal fluids restricting the baby’s airway.


Sloth Csection

Working quickly to get baby clean and warm.


Sloth Csection

Baby exploring her new world.


Baby Sloth

Me holding baby immediately after surgery to increase her body temperature. This method is called “skin to skin” and is used in human babies as a quick and effective way to reverse hypothermia which is a common complication in c-section births.


Mum and Baby 2 days later

Mum and Baby 2 days later

Baby two days later  

Mom and baby snuggle three days after operation.  Both patients are still in critical condition fighting for their lives. Everyday I wake up (if I have been able to sleep) so grateful for the work I get to do here in the rainforest of Costa Rica. Sloth care requires a lot of patience, commitment, care and disappointment. We are hoping to eliminate much of the disappointment with the work we are doing. Send good thoughts.

Please visit us here to find out how you can help:  www.theslothinstitutecostarica.org and www.kidssavingtherainforest.org