It’s the 20th day of October, acknowledged around the world as “International Sloth Day,” so we wanted to remind you to celebrate accordingly. You could pay tribute to the day’s namesake creature by spending 20 out of 24 hours sleeping, or maybe having a celebratory feast of leaves and fruits, or perhaps just taking it easy and hanging upside-down. Or you could take a few minutes to read up on sloths and gain a better appreciation for these amazing creatures. The National Aquarium, a legendary facility on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, encourages you to do the latter – and is happy to get you started on your quest by sharing some information. So take a minute, pull up a tree branch and (slowly) digest this information.
In the wild, Linne’s two-toed sloths are found in the treetops of South American rain forests; in Baltimore they’re found in the National Aquarium’s Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, living alongside exotic birds, free-roaming frogs and toads, and a pair of golden lion tamarins. Visitors who want to see them have to look up – way up – and try to spot clumps of brownish-gray fur nestled in the forks of the forest’s trees. The mammals, which are about the size of a small dog, measure two feet long and weigh 12 to 20 pounds. They’re nocturnal by nature, but who can really tell? They spend most of their time – day and night – just sleeping in an upside-down position. And when they’re not doing that, they’re eating … which they do upside-down. Or mating … which, for the record, they also do upside-down. But more about that later.
Linne’s two-toed sloths can accomplish most of their daily activities upside-down because they have two long claws on their front feet and three on the back, giving them the perfect design for a life filled with such slothful activities as, well, hanging around in trees. Though this species isn’t currently on the World Wildlife Fund’s lists of threatened, vulnerable or endangered species, it is suffering habitat loss because humans cut down those trees. Fragmentation of forests is a huge problem, forcing sloths to come to the ground and travel (really, really slowly) to additional trees for food and shelter. On the ground, they’re easy prey for wild felines like ocelots and jaguars. Other species of sloth – the maned three-toed sloth and the pygmy three-toed sloth, for example – haven’t fared as well as the Linne’s two-toed sloth and now appear on the WWF’s endangered species list.
Educating visitors about sloths and other residents of the rain forest is part the National Aquarium’s mission. One of the Upland Tropical Rain Forest residents, a female Linne’s two-toed sloth named Ivy, is a staff and guest favorite. Though the other sloths in the exhibit typically play by the rules, Ivy (slowly) marches to her own beat. In the wild, sloths eat leaves, shoots, fruits and maybe an occasional egg. At the Aquarium, their diet includes special “leaf-eater” biscuits, squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, eggplant and some fruit, all of which is cut into pieces the shape of steak fries and then placed in bowls throughout the exhibit. Cutting the food in this way makes it easier for the sloths to manipulate with their long-clawed hands, and the other sloths are very happy with that. But when Ivy first came to the Aquarium in 2007, she bypassed the sloth food bowls and took snacks from the birds’ food dishes instead. On the rare occasions when the staff did spot her – generally early in the mornings – it wasn’t unusual to see her with bird food all over her head, evidence of nighttime pillaging in the bird bowls.
Ivy further cemented her popularity in August 2012, when she was observed carrying a newborn baby that the Aquarium ultimately named Camden. Nobody had known she was pregnant, as mating is rarely observed among sloths and their stomachs often look distended because of their diets, so pregnant sloths don’t look very different from non-pregnant animals. Ivy proved to be an excellent and very attentive mother, toting little Camden (who started out about six or seven inches long) around on her belly until he wasn’t so little anymore; in fact, when Camden finally parted from Ivy after nearly a year – the typical amount of time a baby sloth clings to its mother – he was nearly as big as she is.
Ivy had a second baby, a female named Scout, in November 2013. And then in March 2015, she had another daughter, Felize. These days the best chance of spotting Ivy is in the late afternoons, when she can sometimes be seen carrying baby Felize around the exhibit. Ivy, Felize and Scout currently reside in the rain forest exhibit. The Aquarium participates in a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for sloths, a program developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to help ensure the survival of the species; it’s one of many AZA-accredited facilities around the country that work cooperatively to manage the population of Linne’s two-toed sloths. Camden was recently relocated to another AZA-accredited facility so he could find a mate and do what sloths do … upside-down, of course.
We figure that today, in honor of International Sloth Day, Ivy and her girls will most likely celebrate by – you guessed it – just taking a nap.