It might be a tad bit extreme to say some people are obsessed with sloths. Three-toed and two-toed varieties (actually, they all have three toes) live in the rainforest belt around the tropics of Central and South America, so the closest most of us ever get to them is usually in the zoo.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t out-and-out nuts about them. Why the fascination? Perhaps it’s their funny faces, or the disconnect in our minds between the big climbing claws and the gentle demeanors. To me, their expressions always make them seem to be thinking.
John and I once had an opportunity to hold a sloth. We look delighted and amazed – the sloth looked bored, or scared, or maybe asleep. Hard to tell with a sloth, but we doubt it was particularly happy being passed from person to person for a dollar a hug. In the wild, they just hang out, being sloths, living their lives, and that is a way to observe them that can’t compare with any staged experience.
Sloths in the wild stir a different kind of feeling – awe. They have a reputation for not moving very fast, but it’s amazing how much distance they cover when they want to. They are phenomenally cute when they’re up in a tree, and they do everything with deliberate movement, like they consider their actions and the consequences and whether or not the latter are worth it. They live slow (they do everything slow), and we humans could learn from that.
The babies are adorable – but hey, all babies have that special quality. Here’s one pestering its mama. They were in a tree about ten feet up on the side of a busy road. Tour bus after bus stopped and disgorged frantic humans wanting to capture the moment.
Baby Sloth: “Mama, what are those weird animals pointing at us?”
Mama Sloth: “Get used to it, kiddo. They do that a lot, along with making strange cries and clicks while they lean forward. We have yet to discover what the appendages in front of their faces are used for.”
Cellphones and cameras, of course, all the better to photograph them. Still, we can’t get enough of them.
The coat of a sloth grows in a direction (toward the center of their body) we’d consider upside down, because that’s how they perch in the trees, and it aids in rain runoff. It is coarsely textured, all the better to support its symbiotic relationship with algae in the rainforest. Yes, they move so slowly, they grow greenery, all the better to camouflage them among the trees and keep them safe from eagles, hawks and big cats, their natural predators. They can’t move fast across open ground, but they can swim like champions!
Their diet is rich in leaves and insects but little in the way of complex protein, which is why their metabolism is so slow. They also eat the algae on their fur, rich in nutrients. They have poor hearing and eyesight, but they see colors (how experts know this is something I’d love to know). Finding their dinner (which they could still be eating for breakfast the next day) is managed by sense of smell and taste. In the wild, they live about 20 years.
The next time you see a sloth, either at the zoo or in a photo or in real life, think about what we can learn from them. Slow down, stop and savor, and live life deliberately. Hang out. You’ll get there when you get there.
Are you sloth-enthused? Do you cry when you see one? You are not alone! Why do you love them?