Three-toed Sloth

Sloths are a very strange animal. They are not monkeys, but live most of their lives in trees. They are very slow moving and I can’t see how they can survive in the wild. They do so by camouflage and their fur carries algae to help hide it. Their stomachs are massive because they live on a diet of leaves with low nutritional value. Sloths stay in the trees all the time except to defecate once a week. They will climb down the tree, dig a hole and do their business, cover it up and return to the tree. They are vulnerable to predators at this time. I guess they do this to hide where they live. Predators might smell their stool and look in the tree above it?

The three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is the most common of the six different species of sloths. They are separated into two families, the 3-toed and 2-toed, although this is a misnomer. All sloths have three toes but they differ in the number of claws/fingers. They should correctly be known as three-fingered sloths.

“I’ve had enough of you tourists.”

Santa Cruz Bolivia was once known for its sloths in the main plaza. All the guidebooks featured that tourists and locals could watch the sloths in the trees in the downtown plaza. They have since been removed as the city has grown. We encountered this one at the Botanical Gardens. The sloth appeared stressed by all the attention the tourists were given it and eventually stopped at a base of a small tree and curled up into a ball. I can see why they were harassed in the plaza and had to be removed. They are one of the few wild animals that are easy to approach and even pet. I remember seeing them in the city of Cartagena Colombia. Vendors carried them around the markets, either for sale or tourists could pay to get their picture taken with one.

They are still quite common in the lowland forests of Bolivia and seem to survive well close to humans. We spotted one at the Guembe Reserve in Urubo, a nature resort in the new part of the city.

What a fascinating mammal! The sloth has been associated with being lazy or slow, but they are far from that. The sloth has evolved to find an unique niche in the forest and is able to live from a diet that few animals can, similar to the koala in Australia. They also have interesting relationships with algae and a range of arthropods that live on their dung and fur. I will be looking for more sloths on our trip to eastern Bolivia later this month.

A distintive marking on the backside of the sloth.

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