The Greatest Gift | SST Update

Ellie a little wet while hanging out in the large sloth pre-release enclosure (university).

“Patience is a virtue” — that is the tired mantra I keep repeating to myself as I observe Hanna and Ellie, two adult two-fingered sloths soft released just three short weeks ago. Unlike a hard release, where an animal is placed in their natural habitat and left to find shelter and food for themselves, a soft release entails months, sometimes years of preparing the animal for life in the wild. Over the past few months, Hanna and Ellie have been learning how to survive in the “real world” in a pre-release enclosure at the SST Sarapiqui release site. This, the final stage of their long rehabilitation journey, is called Sloth University. Their enclosure is supplied daily with leaves we have observed wild sloths eat, has live trees to climb on, a partial roof to shelter them from rain, and a release door that we open upon graduation. After countless hours of night observations and regular health checkups by sloth technicians like myself, this resilient pair of sloths has proven themselves physically and behaviorally fit for life in the wild. In other words, Hanna and Ellie have just graduated! Instead of receiving a diploma to hang up in their favorite tree, we gave these two sloths the greatest gift of all: freedom. We activated their radio tracking collars, opened the release door, and connected a thick rope through it to a tree outside.

Hanna sucking her fingers as an orphan many years ago.

Then, we waited… and waited… and now, three weeks after opening the door I remind myself when I observe them for six to nine hours a night that “patience is a virtue,” that the sloths will leave when they are ready, no sooner. Hanna and Ellie want to leave — they have inspected the release door, tentatively tested the rope connecting outside, Ellie even stuck her head out and smelled the free jungle air. All we can do now is wait and be patient. We wait, filled with butterflies in our stomachs and irrational overprotective worry, like parents of children who are leaving home for the first time, yet still do not know how to cook for themselves. We wait until Hanna and Ellie decide to leave their pre-release enclosure, until they choose to be free. As many of us know, life after university is filled with big choices: where to live and work, what to cook for dinner, whether to have a family or not, etc. With sloth university graduates, the decisions are just the same: what leaves to eat for dinner, what tree to rest in at night, what territory to call home, and whether to be a parent or not. With so many tough decisions, no wonder they won’t leave right away! Being independent is hard! But worth it, of course.

Cross your fingers with me, and the rest of the sloth team here at Sarapiqui, that Hanna and Ellie will find the courage to leave their enclosure soon, and finally experience true freedom in the wild.

Written by Sloth Technician of the Saving Sloths Together Project: Duncan Coleman & Edited by Lyndsie Kiebert of Kiebert Edits


Donate to Hanna and Ellie through the Saving Sloths Together Project.

In 2017 Toucan Rescue Ranch and The Sloth Institute came together to form Saving Sloths Together (SST), a Costa Rica wide project seeking to provide greater opportunity for sloths in need. By combining each organization’s skills and knowledge we are able to improve the process of sloth rescue, rehabilitation and release in Costa Rica.  This partnership utilizes scientific expertise, dedication, passion and decades of experience to provide the very best program for every sloth needing help at gaining a second chance at a life in the wild.

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