The Sloth Institute

A year in a life of a sloth and sloth field researchers

By Sara Ferreiro, TSI Research Manager

Princess Leia

Since The Sloth Institute was created, one of the main focuses has been observing sloths in their natural habitat to learn about their ecology and activity patterns.

Princess Leia, the protagonist of this story, had a tragic start. Her mom was electrocuted to death right after Leia was born. During the emergency, she was rescued and became part of our rehabilitation program. We determined that she must have been only a day or two old as part of her umbilical cord was still attached to her. Leia was raised together with other baby three-fingered sloths until she was big enough to start a new chapter in life.

For the last year, Princess Leia has been living in the wild. What a challenge for a baby raised in captivity! Her mum didn’t have time to show her the jungle. She did not learn which trees were good to eat or which spots were good to hide and find shelter. So 2023 was a big exploration year for her!

A juvenile 3F is considerably small in size. This not only makes them more vulnerable to predation but also their arms are shorter to navigate the forest and move from canopy to canopy. It is not that easy when you are not a monkey and cannot jump! In the beginning, juveniles prefer to use only a few trees to live. Once they find a food source they will try to stay around. Their confidence grows with time. So Leia, little by little, tree by tree, started discovering her new world.

Her evolution didn’t go unnoticed. Someone was always there, looking from a distance and following her movements…

Robin – Sloth Field Researcher

We are very thankful for all the hardworking and dedicated volunteers who have joined our team since we started in 2014. Biologists from all around the world have come to gain experience in the field and contribute to our research program. Having the opportunity to study animals in the field is always very exciting. However, it is also a big challenge. Data collection requires a lot of consistence and it is also very methodologic.

‘’Sloths can be quite tricky to keep an eye on, since their slow movements make them very good at being silent while they move through the canopy. On top of that, you have dense leaf cover, darkness (yes! because a lot of their activity is at night time!), mosquitos and torrential rain to contend with on occasion. Observing sloths is definitely less easy than it might sound!’’ says one of our last interns who has been following Leia.

When we talk about progress with sloths, we don’t count the time in days or weeks. Being a sloth researcher also requires from a lot of patience. Princess Leia widely expanded her territory six months after her release. It was amazingly rewarding to see her discover new areas and find new food. During her health checks we were able to confirm that she has been successfully gaining weight.

With a new year around the corner, I wonder what her next steps will be. Bigger and more prepared, I’m confident that she will have a bright 2024. And we will be there to watch!