One of the things that my daughter and I did when we were getting ready for our trip was to watch videos taken in Costa Rica. We happened upon some videos from the Sloth Sanctuary in Cahuita (on the Caribbean coast), and were enchanted by the adorable, slow, gentle creatures that lived there. So getting to see a sloth in person was one of our goals.
It was a fantastic experience. There are so many places around the country competing for tourism dollars, but every indication I got from this place is that it is the real deal- they are in the business of rehabilitating sloths to return them to the wild, and providing a safe and caring home for those who can not safely live in the wild. They are also partnered with a US University to add to the research base about sloths. They are solitary animals who live in a relatively small part of the world, so not much is known about sloths at this point.
For our tour, we could either choose the 1-hour tour for $25, or the 4-hour “insider” tour for $150. Although the insider tour was spendy, we were coming all this way to see the sloth sanctuary, and we wanted to get as much out of the opportunity as possible, so that’s what we opted for. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
We arrived at the sanctuary, and first up was “Breakfast with Buttercup.” Buttercup is the first sloth that they received, and the reason for the sanctuary’s existence. She needed a home, and the grandmother took her in. They learned through trial and error how to take care of her, and over time people brought more sloths to them. That’s how the whole program got started. Buttercup was raised as a pet, since they didn’t know any better at the time, and she now lives in a hanging wicker chair in the dining room. She is 22 years old, and is still doing great!
Buttercup was asleep in her chair when we came in.
We had an hour to enjoy breakfast, get to know the others, and take pictures of Buttercup. They served us cheese and tomato omelettes, fresh fruit, and toast. Yum! The whole mood at the place was so calm and relaxed. Grandma was making and serving breakfast, her daughter was checking people in, and the grandson was the one who would be leading the tour. Everybody there just had a very kind and relaxed air about them. Even the dogs were mellow! One was a puppy, though, and I accidentally got her riled up by petting her, so she got the zoomies and had to go calm down for a bit. But even that was handled so gently.
Cypress in the dining room.
An hour seemed like a long time, at first, but then Buttercup woke up, and it was time for her breakfast.
She woke up and looked around at us. Since she is a three-fingered sloth, she has a tail that was hanging down through the chair. The two-fingered sloths are bigger, and don’t have a tail.
She got started eating her fresh leaves.
We all gathered around to watch her. She would take breaks from eating to check us out, too, then swivel her long neck around to eat some more leaves.
After breakfast, we joined one of the “regular” tours to meet some of their resident sloths and learn a little bit of basic information about them. These sloths were some of the ones who had been there the longest, and weren’t candidates to go back into the wild. One of them had only three legs, for example! When he came to the sanctuary, he had a terrible infection and gangrene, and the leg had to be amputated. Another just didn’t do well at feeding herself when she was released, and would always end up sick and hungry after a few weeks. This is probably because she came to the sanctuary as a baby, and they haven’t had success in teaching sloths who were not raised in the wild by their mothers how to survive.
We learned the basics about sloths, their diet, and their anatomy, and got to ask questions. Three-fingered sloths are smaller and darker in color than two-fingered sloths. And they are not as closely related as you would think.
One of the resident two-fingered sloths.
Although sloths are usually solitary, these two were a bonded pair, since they had grown up together. I also noticed that lots of sleeping sloths like to keep at least one leg hooked around a branch as they rested, even if they were on a platform.
From there, we went into the area where they keep the young sloths (but not the true babies!). The star of the show was Jemima. She was born at the sanctuary, but rejected by her mother. Apparently, this is common when there is a deformity or other problem with the baby. In Jemima’s case, she is growing very slowly, but appears healthy otherwise. She is two years old, but is still the size of a baby, and needs a bit more care than the other sloths around her age.
Jemima coming out to get some food and for us to get a closer look. The sloths really like having a stuffed animal or rolled up towel to hang on to.
They asked us not to touch the sloths, which I think is fair. This is a rescue organization, not a petting zoo, and because of sloths’ slow digestion, any fragrances, chemicals, or diseases we brought with us could do them harm, especially considering how many visitors they get on a daily basis. We did get a really up-close look at Jemima! Here she is eating a hibiscus flower.
An iguana came running by the path.
Some of the sloths in that area also had injuries or other disabilities. One had become a paraplegic after a fall onto coral during a strong storm, for example. In the background, we also got to see several sloths out for exercise on the jungle gym.
After that, the “regular” tour group went on a canoe ride, and we got to go up to the nursery. Without a doubt, that was the best part of the tour. That was the room with their tiny, tiny baby sloths who had just come in, or who needed special care. They each had an incubator, but today was warm enough that they were out in plastic tubs on the floor instead. Apparently, they don’t climb out because they don’t like being on a flat surface.
It was heartbreaking watching all of those poor babies, most or all of them orphans! But they were absolutely adorable.
Look at that baby fuzz!
Pria was the only three-fingered sloth baby.
The babies who were awake were all clamoring for attention. When I went to see Pria, the three-fingered sloth, she was trying to climb out on to me. She also really wanted to know about my camera.
At that point, I had to stop the video and apologize to her for not picking her up!
This next sloth was so new that it hadn’t even been named yet.
Finally, we had to say goodbye to the babies and go to the main area where the adults were housed. Some of them were just being kept until they recovered from an injury and could go back to the wild. The ones who can’t be released will either stay there, or go to a zoo. We got to wash our hands, and feed some hibiscus to a couple of the adults. The sloths definitely will do their best to get your attention and get you to keep feeding them one they know you have treats! Their claws are better for hanging than grabbing, so you had to put the flower petals pretty much right by their mouths for them to be able to eat them easily. The one I fed did lick me a little bit when he was trying to get the flower.
Another pair of sloths hanging out together.
Then, we got to see their medical room and xray equipment. They also had several jars of sloth fetuses that had died in utero or were stillborn. Again, the point is to increase knowledge of sloths in general so that they can be better cared for and rehabilitated.
Two-fingered sloth and placenta.
This three-fingered sloth died when almost old enough to be born! Compared to many mammals, sloths are pretty well-developed when they’re born.
From there, we got to go on a canoe tour of the property. It was a good chance to get a feel for the lush, tropical rainforest that we were in! There were little crabs all along the bank, and every tree was covered in other plants that were growing on it. There were howler monkeys in the trees howling at us, but I didn’t get any good photos of them.
Bananas and their unique flower.
Quite a few of the rainforest plants are recognizable as houseplants in our area.
The bird of paradise, of course.
I have no idea what kind of flower this is.
This plant was in their garden by the riverbank.
Overall, it was a fantastic and really memorable day. I highly recommend this place to anybody who is interested in learning more about sloths.