A few months ago, near our reception area, we delighted in watching this mother sloth tenderly care for her little baby girl. These sloths are “three-toed” and of the “brown-throated” variety, carrying the scientific name Bradypus variegatus. They are common to our area of Costa Rica, but we at Finca Luna Nueva are particularly blessed with an abundance of these smiling creatures.
The mother sloth will wean her baby at about six months, and she’ll abruptly leave her baby in a part of the mother’s territory with which the baby is most familiar. The baby has there learned to eat what the mother eats, to defecate how and where the mother defecates, and to recognize the trees that will offer secure limbs for climbing. And so, a few months after the above photo was taken, we witnessed the emancipation of the baby girl. We found her climbing up a cacao tree near the Cabalonga Trail, and for us it was the first time we had seen a sloth in a cacao tree.
We saw her again early the next morning, and perhaps she wasn’t looking her best after the evening’s drenching rain.
It’s hard being a little sloth out on its own. No longer is she just drinking her mother’s milk or eating leaves directly off the mother’s face. She’s got to fend for herself, rain or shine, and the photo below shows her to be yawning in exhaustion.
Three-toed sloths are territorial, and as we’ve mentioned the mother gives her baby a familiar part of her territory – to facilitate the transition to independence. The mother is still in her territory, but she’s not near her baby. Stories abound of the emotionally fraught moment when the mother leaves her six-month old baby. Baby sloths are known to cry out for their mothers, but the mothers practice tough love and abandon the child. And the baby will spend the next six months or so in the mother’s territory, getting stronger and a little bigger. The day comes, though, when the baby leaves the mother’s territory and goes off on its own, perhaps looking this young sloth earlier seen at our lodge.
And this makes us wonder about the mother sloth seen in the first photo of this journal. How long has she been in her territory, which is near the reception area? Was she in that territory a few years ago when we came across another nursing sloth with child?
Is the mother sloth in this photo the mother – or perhaps the grandmother – of the newest sloth in the Luna family? We don’t know, but it’s fun to speculate.
One thing we know for certain is that the young sloth is a girl. Male three-toed’s feature a distinctive orange patch around a black stripe on their backs.
We have another type of sloth living on the farm – the Hoffmann’s Two-Toed Sloth, Choloepus hoffmanni. These two-toed sloths share some features with their distant sloth cousins, even having three toes on their back feet. Their hands, however, just have two toes, and their pale fur is quite distinct from the brown-throated variety.
Now for a little Costa Rican history. This type of sloth is named after the German doctor Carl Hoffmann, who as the naturalist Mark Wainwright wrote in his book The Mammals of Costa Rica “served Costa Rican forces as an army surgeon in the tide-turning battle against North American Mercenary and slave trader William Walker…in 1856.” The Hoffman’s Two-Toed Sloth is thus a living tribute to battlefield courage and Costa Rican sovereignty!