One evening, after group dinner, one of the volunteers went to go for a walk around the farm. Upon returning, he the rest of us to follow him out to the mango orchard. On a small branch between the trees, we saw this baby sloth hanging from its tiny claws while screaming out. We knew not what to do so we called an expert from the STRI. They said that if the mother was not back after an hour and a half, that the best decision would be to take the baby inside with us. The poor baby sloth was maybe 1 week old and lost its mom after a heavy storm! It was shivering and wet. As soon as we gave it a stuffed animal and followed the care instructions, the baby was fast asleep and comfortable. We kept it for 2 weeks until we gave it to a rescue shelter in Gamboa, Panama.
While we had Baby, she slept during the day and was awake and alert at night to play. Her idea of playing was to lightly nudge your fingers and with her claw-paws and bring them to her face. She loved being pet and played with. She stuck her tongue out a lot before yawning and when she wanted attention or food. After a while, it became easy to determine which one was which. She needed to eat every 2 hours! It was a lot like having a human baby around except she didn’t cry. She loved to nibble on fingers after eating and having her belly rubbed to help with gas.
We learned a lot about the two-toed sloth in this time. The babies stick to their mothers for up to 2 years! Mothers can only have 1 baby at a time and it takes about a year for that little bundle of fur to go through the gestation period. Two-toed sloths are omnivores and their favorite dessert is hibiscus flower. The babies feed on their mother’s milk for the first few months and eventually start looking and copying their mothers in search of hearty leaves and bugs. To mimic the mother’s milk, we needed to boil anis stars in water and mix the “tea” with goat milk. The baby would eat about 10cc of the combination from a little feeder. She loved putting one claw around the bottle and the other on my finger.
So, what happens to babies like Baby? In Panama, there is a place called the APPC which is located in Gamboa (about 25 minutes from the center of the city). There, they facilitate the process for injured or abandoned animals to return to nature once they are ready. On the visit, we saw close to 40 sloths! They are all in open rooms in hanging baskets. The baskets are on large branches that were cut and fitted. The conservationist’s clip leaves to the small branches daily to mimic the outside and make it easy for the older sloths to identify how they should be eating. During feeding time, they cut up cooked green beans and carrots. They hand-feed each one until they no longer want more food. Baby sloths can have bowel movements between 2-5 days apart. The “toddler” ones go every 7 days. The adult sloths tend to go once a month! This is why they move so slowly – they are preserving the energy they gain from the food since digestion and hanging/moving around take up a lot of their energy.