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Working with Sloths, not a “Relaxed” Gig!

Tom gathering branchesBy Tom Lawrence

I have been working, well full time volunteering, for The Sloth Institute (TSI) for nearly two years and what an experience it has been so far. It is a job that requires a lot of time, devotion and patience but the highs it can give you are most definitely worth it. In the rescue/rehabilitation/release business there are going to be successes, which are fantastic, but the failures and sometimes successive failures and dealing with them are really what can shape the experience.

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Tom workingI came to volunteer for TSI not really knowing what to expect, just wanting to experience and see as much as I could. This has really been the case, from spending hours and hours in the pouring rain at night attempting to follow a sloth through the jungle to getting to give the first milk to a new arrival that is scared and terrified about what has likely just occurred. One of the intriguing things about this job, which involves looking after sloths in a large pre-release cage, tracking the hand raised ones once released and following wild sloths, is getting to know and understand each individual sloth and their personalities. Some can be much more aggressive than others, some are much more curious and others are much more hesitant. One of the best things though is working with the hand-raised individuals. If you follow us at all you know that Ellen and Kermie have been released and have spent a while being out in the wild. Ellen especially has been doing so well; gaining weight on a completely wild diet with no assistance and not only feeding on leaves that we have fed her before but also ones that the wild sloths in the area eat yet she has never encountered in her life. This is what it is all about at the end of the day and I have been so proud of her. This drives you to keep working harder and harder especially as you want this future for the future sloths coming through the program. It shows that putting in the effort to collect leaves for 2 hours a day for them when they are in the pre-release cage actually means something. There are of course things I miss such as my family and friends from home but luckily we have a great team here of people here which makes it easier. It is also pretty much a 24/7 job as you have to be ready to respond to an emergency at any time so you are definitely kept occupied.

Sloths in social media have a reputation as being cute, cuddly and not doing very much but you find out very quickly that this is not the case. Whilst they are most definitely cute restraining one can lead to being left with as many bleeding scratches as you would with an angry white faced capuchin. This is one thing I really hope that the research and work that we do here will show that like any other wild animal sloths deserve respect and will be seen as such. This and the continuing development of our wild sloth/WISH (Wild Sloth Health Initiative) program are things I really hope we accomplish going forward and it should mean even more exciting times here at TSI.

About The Sloth Institute of Costa Rica

The vision of The Sloth Institute Costa Rica is to enhance the well-being and conservation of sloths here and on this planet. It seeks to do this through wild and captive sloths research; education and outreach; and by collaborating with sloth rehabilitation programs to assist with the release of hand-raised orphaned sloths. TSI is located in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. For further information or to donate to this project, email [email protected] or visit www.tsi.charity.org.

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