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November 23rd 2022
Not many animals sport a cheeky smile alongside deceptively long claws, but sloths are a family favourite. Sleeping up to 20 hours a day accounts for their lack of activity, but the truth is that sloths aren’t lazy at all. These magnificent mammals have evolved to maximise their energy exertion and stay safe from potential predators, and if napping is the way to do so, so be it!
Take a moment to celebrate sloths on the 20th of October 2022, the 12th anniversary of International Sloth Day. Started by the non-profit organisation AIUNAU in 2010 to boost awareness of these hilariously one-of-a-kind creatures, this annual reminder of the importance of sloth conservation won’t stop until they are safe and protected.
Most sloth fans are drawn in by the endless list of interesting facts about sloths, as these weird and wonderful creatures walk (or climb) to the beat of their own drum. Keep reading for five fascinating facts about sloths and ways you can help this International Sloth Day.
Typically, you can find sloths relaxing up high in the canopy of a tropical tree, but there is one thing that always brings them down to earth. Once a week, sloths must brave the forest floor to empty their bowels, risking an encounter with a predator. They often lose around 1/3 of their body weight during this sacred ritual! While most of us would consider this constipation, this process is highly beneficial to sloths. The longer they can hold their poop in, the more likely they will live to see another day.
You may have seen the moss-like algae that grow on sloth fur, but that is not all that lives and thrives on these creatures. A three-way mutualistic symbiotic relationship exists between these algae, pyralid moths, and the host—pygmy sloths. When they climb down to poop, moths lay eggs in the dung, and once the adult moths emerge, they fly up into the canopy and settle on a sloth. These moths fertilise the algae, and the algae provide food and nourishment to sloths on the go, like a backpack lunchbox!
While a cuddle with a cute sloth bear may be a tempting experience to showcase on your Instagram page, it is incredibly cruel to these sensitive creatures. Even a scented cream on your hand or a fruity conditioner in your hair could overwhelm their olfactory senses and send them into chaos. These peaceful and solitary mammals are sensitive to the noise that accompanies (often well-meaning) visitors, so if you see them in a sanctuary, remember to respect their safe haven.
If you have already seen this iconic video on BBC Planet Earth of a sloth swimming in search of a mate, this is one of the sloth facts that may not surprise you, but the body functions behind it will. These incredible mammals are surprisingly adept at swimming because of their ability to hold their breath for up to 40 minutes. By slowing their heart rate down by a third, sloths exert significantly less energy, making breathing a non-essential activity when they need to.
Sloths aren’t exactly known for speed, but their comically slow way of moving has some serious benefits. A study cited by Scientific American highlights how sloths have the lowest metabolic rates of any mammal, making their energy needs almost nothing. This keeps them still and hidden, protecting them from the harpy eagles, ocelots, and jaguars that find their prey through movement. Content with little and easily pleased, sloths’ lack of action keeps them safe.
Two of the six species of sloth are listed on the Convention of Biological Diversity as being in trouble. The pygmy three-toed sloth is listed as “Critically Endangered” and the maned three-toed sloth is considered “Vulnerable.” Other species of sloth have successfully bred in captivity, but the pygmy three-toed sloth cannot survive outside its natural habitat. The Sloth Conservation Foundation highlights that these endangered creatures have never reproduced in captivity, meaning we must save their rainforests.
For sloths, the rainforest is everything. They camouflage themselves among the branches and leaves of the canopy and give back to this precious ecosystem by taking moths along for the ride. The Sloth Institute found deforestation to be the biggest risk to sloths in Costa Rica, as removing their home and food source is far more dangerous than any predator could be.
Today, sloth conservation is urgent. These magnificent and unique creatures that fall somewhere between an anteater and an armadillo are an integral part of their rainforest habitats, and we must help them now. Donate to the Rainforest Trust, an organisation dedicated to preserving essential habitats worldwide, or adopt a sloth through the Sloth Conservation Foundation.
Want to get more hands-on with making a difference? Volunteer with this Amazon Forest Rangers Programme in Peru and help out while experiencing the beauty of the rainforest first-hand. You can also find sloths across our projects in Costa Rica!
We need International Sloth Day to remind the world that these gentle creatures need our help. Now you know some fun facts about sloths, will you go the extra mile to save them this World Sloth Day?
Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Tamsin Appleton