Many of the sloths brought by locals or even travelers from up and down the country’s Caribbean coast to the Aviarios Sanctuary, are just a few months old when they arrive, while others are injured adults. Sometimes they have been badly electrocuted after climbing electrical or telephone cables, or have been crippled by a bad fall, or hit by a car. There are so few options for these beautiful creatures to rehabilitate in the country, with the only other available sanctuary located on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica (recently certified by MINAET, the governing entity in Costa Rica) being located outside of Quepos & Manuel Antonio and is managed by the very popular Kids Saving the Rainforest (kstr.org). These two facilities are two of only a handful of folks that will even accept these injured animals for rehab and are legally allowed to do so.
Sloths belonging to the Choloepus Genus and the Bradypus Genus arrive to the sanctuaries year round (these are the only types found in Costa Rica). The Choloepus is commonly called a two-toed sloth, although Avey points out it’s more like two fingers, as the animal’s lower limbs each have three toes. The Bradypus has three “fingers” (or "toes") and a sort of smiley face and appears to be wearing a mask around its eyes, so those are not as hard to spot, though both species are difficult to notice when living in the wild. For both types of sloths, the fingers and toes are curved, claw-like bone appendages with fingernail coatings, which help sloths cling to branches and stuff a variety of tree leaves into their mouths. Sloths can also use the claws for defense against predators, especially should they find themselves on the jungle floor, though the most common predators are the harpy eagles, which can swoop down and snatch these large creatures right off a sturdy tree limb. Although the sluggish herbivores are rarely ever the first to attack, they will eagerly use their long claws if needed for self defense. Their natural self defense is further aided by an algae that grows within their furry coat and helps hide their scent from possible predators, such as ocelots and jaguars. Naturally, it's humans that have long been one of the sloths' biggest threats, with the continuing loss of habitat.
Though large for an arboreal mammal, the three-toed sloth must also be light for it to be able to live on easily breakable branches where it can sleep for some 12-18 hours per day. So for that reason, the sloth has overall reduced muscle mass. These unique creatures also have an enormous gut capacity, nearly 30% of their total body weight! The sloth's diet of leaves is digested very slowly, so they need a have this large capacity. Due to their slow metabolism, the sloths have thick fur to insulate them for when their body temperature drops at night. That is why often you will spot a sloth basking in the sunlight of the day, before curling up in a ball in the tree for the night to conserve their limited energy.
Several kinds of moths have a symbiotic relationship with this species and live as adults on the sloths. These arthropods leave the sloth to deposit their eggs once a week on the sloth's dung, at which time the hatched larvae feed on the dung, pupate, and later emerge as adults, to fly in search of another sloth to make their home. A single sloth may carry 1000 or more species of moths, beetles, mites and other small insects you do not want to share your skin (or bed) with! Because of the cyanobacteria and other parasites, sloth fur serves as a small ecosystem all its own.
Adult males are characterized by a patch of shorter hair on their backs that is colored pale to bright yellow, with a dorsoventral black stripe through the center. Adult females lack such a marking, so that is the easiest way to determine the sex. It is essentially impossible to distinguish the sexes of young and juvenile sloths because there is no external genitalia.
Buttercup had a few difficult months. Using books, common sense and intuition, I was able to concoct a diet that brought her into adulthood. Today, she holds the record of being the sloth to live the longest time in captivity. She reigns supreme over our veranda at the Sloth Sanctuary.
As the years passed, we became the “sloth people”. Orphaned and injured sloths were brought to us for rehabilitation. In 1997 we started an educational program to teach local people and tourists that baby sloths are bad pet choices. We raised awareness about poaching and habitat destruction. The Sloth Sanctuary became a gathering place and international hub for sloth research.