Tag Archives: #teamsloths

Inappropriate use of sloths

Join with #teamsloth, and sloths everywhere, sticking our tongues out at the barbaric practice of sloth head hunting.
Join with #teamsloth, and sloths everywhere, sticking our tongues out at the barbaric practice of sloth head hunting.

There’s only so much cultural relativism that #teamsloth can stomach. Ecuador’s Shuar tribe definitely crosses the line of acceptability.

One of the makers of Ecuador’s famous shrunken heads, the Shuar have evidently decided that killing each other for heads to shrink is no longer appropriate (so far so good). But they now just use sloths instead (no longer good). As part of a coming of age ritual adolescent boys are sent into the jungle with green bananas. When the bananas ripen to yellow they return to their homes with the spoils of their hunt. They’re hunting for sloths to cut off their heads, steam them to reduce their size, and then use them as ornaments.

This seems both mean spirited and cowardly. Seriously, want to have some ridiculous ritual to prove manhood, why not try hunting something that can effectively run away from you? It’s not even like these Shuar boys take blow darts. If the Ecuador National Museum of Ethnography’s illustrations are to be believed, they hunt with guns. That’s an inappropriate use of sloths.


Sloths and their people

We saw sloths. Close up. And they were just as charming and docile as we might have hoped. Each movement they make is deliberate and enjoyable, like stretching your arms back with a big yawn. Their faces are flat, ponderous and almost otherworldly. And their fur is so plush and soft you’d think they were born to be teddy bears.

At Eco Reserva Surros Del Bosque:

  • Sloths come for rehabilitation from trafficking or orphaning.
  • They live in perspex a-frames with forest inside but spend most of their time in baskets that look like picnic hampers.
  • Little sloths have their baskets covered and filled with heat pads.
  • Normally solitary in the wild, they make friends in the sanctuary and sometimes share baskets. They also seem comfortable with humans and weren’t averse to giving us a good stare.

There were also some ant-eaters who were interesting enough, but no sloths.

Captaining #teamsloth

It turned out visiting with our host was almost as endearing as visiting with the sloths themselves. She’s a Croatian scientist who came to Colombia in 1988 having gotten fed up with her PhD. She fostered her first sloth in 1996 and has never looked back.

Imagine the single minded and marginally nutty determination of an organisation like the Wellington Cats Protection League. Quadrouple it. You may then be approaching our host’s commitment to sloths. Those outside of #teamsloth may even dare to use the term crazy sloth lady (though we would not). Remember this is the same person who advised us we would not be able to take photos for fear of damaging the fragile psyche of the noble sloths she houses, for they have lived with terror. When we visited the sloths she talked to them nonstop, with all the endearments fit for preschoolers. The babies live in her home for round the clock care.

She was thrilled to have visitors from New Zealand and had prepared mint lemonade and meringues for the occasion. Our conversation is hard to describe. In her enthusiasm for sloths she was at once surprised by what we didn’t know, slightly scornful, and thrilled to tell us:

  • Us: Is it true that baby sloths cannot regulate their body temperature? Her: Of course. This is true of all mammals.
  • Us: What do you feed the anteaters? Her: There are three kinds of anteaters…[ten minute explanation of species, no information about food].
  • Us: Would it be possible for a two and three toed sloth to mate? Her: I don’t understand your question. Us: Would it be possible for a two and three toed sloth to mate? Her: No, of course not, they are completely different species.

Other highlights of the conversation included her apologies for some ant eaters murderous tendencies (“you would do the same if you were threatened”) and her insistence that the Spanish name for sloths change from oso peresozos to perezosos (not lazy bears, just lazies). Still pejorative, but more scientifically correct.

We also talked about trafficking. The traffickers just head out into the forest, grab themselves some  sloths and sell them on the side of the road. I’d assumed that the key market for trafficked sloths would be Russian oil oligarchs or similar with sloths smuggled with a massive price tag attached. Actually sloths are sold for maybe $40NZD as pets for Colombian families. Very reasonable. Are you thinking what I was thinking?

We were pretty darn pleased to have gotten up close and personal with some sloths, and to have met what must surely have been one of #teamsloth’s most valuable players.

As warned in yesterday’s hype post we took no pictures. But if you need a kick of sloth, you can check out this video of the sanctuary.