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An interview with… Kids Saving the Rainforest

In 1999, two 9-year-old girls created the Kids Saving the Rainforest charity, determined to protect and preserve the rainforest and its wildlife. It has since grown into a renowned wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park. Jennifer Rice and Dani Dion rescue, conserve and rehabilitate sloths as well as research their behaviours.

How many species of sloths are there?

Sloths are either nocturnal or diurnal and have three toes. However, diurnal sloths have three prominent fingers, while nocturnal sloths only have two. Despite being called toe-toed sloths, this refers to their front limbs, which can also now be more appropriately called fingers. Within these two types, there are a total of six species. 

Which of the sloths’ features help them live in their habitat?

With their long, sharp claws, sloths can climb and hang on to tree branches. Even dead sloths can be found still hanging on. Their claws are also a useful defence against predators. Sloths can swim three times faster than they can move on land and can hold their breath underwater for up to 40 minutes.

Sloths’ internal organs are attached to their ribcage so that they don’t compress against their lungs when upside down. They also have multi-chambered stomachs that are always full, which means their digestion is extremely important. A leaf takes 30 days to digest as they ferment it before digesting it. This process is faster in higher ambient temperatures; as is their food intake.

As sloths have extremely poor hearing and eyesight, they use their sense of smell to find food. Their noses also act as sweat glands, so when it’s hot their nose is often covered with beads of moisture. Algae grows on their fur, camouflaging them green, which in turn attracts insects that feed on the nutrients and camouflage themselves.

Where is the best place to see sloths?

Native to Central and South America, they inhabit guarumo and cecropia trees in rainforests and mangrove forests. You are most likely to find them in Manuel Antonio National Park, the Osa Peninsula and the Caribbean coast.

Why do sloths look happy? 

Humans interpret sloths’ expression as smiling, despite there being little scientific evidence. The dark coloration of their mouths makes them look happy, but this is not necessarily a reflection of their mood.

What is the difference between male and female sloths?

Male sloths with three fingers have a dark stripe on their back, encircled with shorter, lighter fur. It’s extremely difficult to differentiate male and female sloths with two fingers from a distance. They seem to have a similar cloaca – a shared opening to the excretory, urinary and genital tracts – however, the male genitals are often more prominent, especially when older.

Is it true that if a mother sloth drops her baby, or it falls that she won’t retrieve it?

Yes, mothers do drop their baby sloths. This happens if their instincts tell them their baby has defects, making it impossible for them to live in the wild. This is by no means the only cause of orphaned sloths. Babies can be separated from their mothers due to human disturbances, loss of habitat or their mother to predators.

Can you tell us about your daily routine as a conservationist?

Baby sloths need to be fed frequently. In the wild, a sloth’s mother would find food for them for up to a year. Sloths with three fingers usually stay with their mothers for six months in the wild, whereas sloths with two fingers can stay with them for up to a year.

What are your main goals at Kids Saving the Rainforest?

Our aim at Kids Saving the Rainforest is to sustain the biodiversity and wildlife. As part of our reforestation project, we have planted over 10,000 trees and are set to plant 10,000 more over the next 18 months. Our wildlife bridges offer a safe passage over roads, preventing injury by cars or electrical wires. We also run the only legal rescue centre on the Pacific coast that provides rehabilitation for wounded, sick and abandoned animals.

How are you contributing to sloth conservation efforts?

Since 2000, the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned or injured sloths has been our key focus. We also carry out research projects with other rescue centres to identify trends and gain new insights. We are currently looking into why the majority of orphaned sloths went from being three-fingered 19 years ago, to now being mostly two-fingered.

What is the biggest threat to sloths?

Human encroachment is the biggest threat to wild sloths through poaching, deforestation and tourists trying to take selfies or interact with them. Other risks include dog attacks, electrical wires and moving vehicles, as well as predators such as harpy eagles and jaguars. However, these predators aren’t found near the sanctuary.

Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Costa Rica. To spot sloths in their natural habitat, options include our Natural Splendours of Costa Rica group tour. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.