Today’s endangered species is brought to you by a video I stumbled upon browsing my Twitter feed last night. There are two main types of sloths; two-toed and three-toed. Within those two types, there are six species of sloth: maned sloth, pale-throated sloth, brown-throated sloth, Linnaues’s two-toed sloth, Hoffman’s two-toed sloth and the pygmy three-toed sloth. Of the six species, 4 of the populations are doing well but the maned sloth is listed as vulnerable and the pygmy three-toed sloth is critically endangered.
8900 years ago, pygmy three-toed sloths were found in the rainforests of Central America, specifically the Panama coast. Today however, the pygmy-three toed sloth is only found in red mangroves on one small island off the Panamanian coast called Isla Escudo or Escudo de Veraguas. During the Pleistocene period, or the Ice Age, there was a huge, diverse population of sloths with the pygmy three-toed being a lot larger than it is today. However, right around the Holene Epoch, or the age of man, population size began to decrease and habits became extremely isolated resulting in insular dwarfism. This occurs when a species is confined to a small area and depends on very limited resources.
The pygmy three-toed sloths are a greyish-tan color with black bands around their eyes. Males have an orange stripe down their back with a black line slashing vertically through it. They also have long hair that hangs around their face giving them the nick name “monk sloth” cause it looks like a hood. Their other distinct trait is that they have 3 toes versus the mainland sloths that only have two toes. They only weigh about 5-7 pounds in comparison to their cousins who weigh closer to 10 pounds or more. They spend most of their times in trees as they are pros at climbing. It’s very rare to see a pygmy three-toed sloth on the ground and if you do, they are doing their version of a crawl or going to the bathroom. They go go seven days without urinating or defecating. Pygmy three-toed sloths are also adept swimmers! In fact, the video I mentioned before showcased a pygmy three-toed sloth swimming to find his mate.
Speaking of mating, there are no lengths a sloth won’t go to to find his mate. A male is attracted to a female by the loud calls or vocalizations she makes. Sexual maturity for a sloth occurs around three years of age and offspring are born after about six months to a year. A female sloth has one offspring who clings to her underside throughout it’s first year. its It’s very rare for a sloth to bear twins. Pygmy three-toed sloths are herbivores. They feed on the leaves of the mangrove trees they live in.
The main threats to these little guys are deforestation. Since their habitat is already quite small, the destruction of the mangrove trees could lead to rapid extinction. There is a small population of natives that live on the island but secret hunting of the pygmy three-toed sloth for their meat is also a huge concern. And finally, the threat of turning the island into a tourist attraction would definitely mean the end for these beasties considering population count estimates are about 200 or less. This sadly means that genetic diversity is quite low.
The only main conservation effort that has been made is that Isla Escudo is listed as a protected wildlife refuge. However, it’s loosely enforced. Since about 2013, conservationists have been trying to come up with a comprehensive conservation plan that involves the natives as well as the scientific community to help prevent this species from going extinct. There are a few organizations you can donate to to help this cause. Click the names to find out more or to donate: The Sloth Conservation Foundation, The Zoological Society of London, The Amazon Aid Foundation.
As a bonus, here’s the video by BBC Earth that prompted this post: