Who Can Resist a Baby Sloth?
When I began planning my trip to the southern Caribbean, I knew that I wanted to visit Cahuita's Sloth Rescue Center, known locally as Aviarios del Caribe. Founded in 1992, the facility began with just one animal's story: Buttercup, a three-toed sloth that was in desperate need of tender loving care. When neighborhood girls introduced Judy and Luis Arroyo to the abandoned baby, they wanted to help. A call to San Jose's zoo yielded no results, so the Arroyos improvised, feeding and taking care of the young sloth as best they could. Today, 19-year-old Buttercup is the sloth's unofficial mascot, welcoming visitors from her favorite wicker swing.
As we began our tour, I was shocked to learn that sloths' gargantuan ancestors, known as giant ground sloths, weighed approximately 10,000 pounds each – on par with woolly mammoths! However, comparing these ancient species to modern sloths is like comparing a saber-tooth tiger to a house cat: today's sloths weigh between 7 and 20 pounds.
While nursing Buttercup to healthy adulthood, the Arroyos founded the Sloth Rescue Center; the organization has since rescued more than 120 sloths. A pioneer in sloth research and education, the rescue center aids animals that have been injured or orphaned due to power lines, road accidents, habitat destruction, hunting and other causes. When possible, the Sloth Rescue Center rehabilitates injured adults and teaches babies to survive on their own, eventually releasing them into in the wild. Sloths that are permanently disabled or otherwise unable to live in the forest find a forever home at the rescue center.
As we walked toward the sloth nursery, our guide discussed myths about sloths. While many people believe that sloths are lazy, the truth is that wild sloths sleep less than ten hours a day. Their slow, calculated movements are not the result of laziness, but rather a symptom of their diet: while most herbivores are able to digest vegetation in a matter of hours, sloths can take up to four weeks to digest one leaf. I guess you could say that while sloths don't count their calories, they make their calories count!
When we arrived at the nursery, a sea of clear plastic containers atop several tables greeted us. Inside each: adorable baby sloths! Their sweet, trusting eyes searched our faces, as if in search of friendship, but our guide explained that sloths are actually solitary creatures and not as cuddly as they appear. While the youngest were inquisitive, clambering to get a closer look at their guests, most adolescents and adults shy away from any type of human interaction. We were urged to look, but not to touch. These animals were destined for life the wild, not as domesticated pets.
We spent at least half an hour oohing and ahhing over the fuzzy adorableness, and before long our tour drew to a close. Though we were scheduled for a canoe ride through the center's grounds, rain had cut short our plans. I'd return another day to get another glimpse at these sweet animals, and use my tourism dollars to contribute to their rehabilitation and welfare.