Thanks to PhD student Rebecca Cliffe of Swansea University, the body of scientific research on the elusive sloth is growing. Rebecca is a biologist working at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, and is using an ingenious system for studying these slow-moving mysterious animals: sloth backpacks. We don’t know very much about sloth behavior, partly because sloths are difficult to study in the wild. They are easily camouflaged and finding them can be difficult. In addition, they spend their time high in the tree canopy, so following them can also be tricky.
The sloth backpacks include VHF transmitters, GPS tags, and a device developed by Professor Rory Wilson that records a “Daily Diary” of the sloth’s activity. The information from these sources provides information about the amount of energy the sloth is expending and will offer clues as to how to best help protect the sloths in the wild and how to return rehabilitated sloths to their natural habitat.
In addition to tracking wild sloths, Becky is researching the large number of sloths in Costa Rica that are being born with congenital birth defects. Some of the baby sloths she has cared for have just one finger or toe, or have shrunken arms and legs. Thus far the research is pointing to the loss of genetic diversity due to the growth in human populations and habitat destruction. By analyzing the genetics from hair samples, Becky and other researchers hope to find more answers. Read more about Becky’s research here, and check out the sloth rescue work being done by Judy Avey-Arroyo and her team at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica.
See more photos from the project here.