Choloepus didactylus or Choloepus hoffmanni
- Needs branches to hang from. Needs to be able to access the ground via a branch or enclosure side to defecate. For easier husbandry, place the tree branch to the ground on top of a litter box. Can use aspen shavings for litter.
Also needs a branch with a “Y” or a hammock/bed to sleep in. Humidity is very important for their skin.
- Can also rest on a shelf with a branch or rope a little ways above it, or in a milk crate or basket.
- Very specialized diets required. Diet changes need to take place very slowly. Only one change should happen at a time with 2 weeks in between each change to detect any digestive problems that may have occurred with change.
- Fruits, vegetables and leaf eater biscuits.
- Tastes vary among individuals, but preferred foods may be yams, jicama, bell peppers, zucchini, browse (hibiscus flowers are especially desired, but also the leaves; eugenia, ficus, starflower leaves and flowers).
- Very sensitive to diet changes. Changes must be done slowly, and given time to process through the system. Sudden increases to diet can be very hard on digestive system,
- Since they require high humidity, feet can become dry and cracked in dry environments. Aquaphilic is a grease free lotion that can be applied to their pads to help with this as well as humidifiers.
- Supplemental heating is necessary in any but their own tropical environment. If the sloth gets too cold, the gut bacteria can die, and the sloth will then die as well.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- Enrichment can be dog toys, scents, towels/blankets and places to nest and sleep. Fire hose hammocks are great.
- Training varies greatly on individual and their upbringing. Socialization with the trainers is very important. Rewarding for coming to trainers, going into a crate and remaining calm is stressful situations is key.
- Since their eyesight is poor, training them for all situations they may encounter as a program animal is important. They can be very sensitive to heat and loud noises. Rewarding for calm behavior and a strong recall to the crate will help with this.
- A vari-kennel can be used as a crate. Using the kennel upside down will allow trainers to reinforce or bait the sloth at the bottom of the crate. Perches must be attached to the “top” of the crate and it’s advised to weight the back of the crate as the sloth will spend some time going in from the front, and it can become unstable.
- Can be trained for guests to interact with. Touching the back in small groups with the sloth being reinforced the whole time. Also guests are able to feed large romaine pieces while the sloth is on a perch.
- It is often best to start working with the sloth while it is very young, even while it is still an infant being carried by its mother if possible.
- Daytime training sessions are hit and miss with our sloth so it takes a little longer for him to learn behaviors.
Colony or Breeding Management
Tips on Presentation
- Can be presented on trainer or on perch. They have a very long reach so in close contact situations it seems best to hold the sloth while for larger spaces a perch is more ideal.
- Can be trained to sit on a perch and eat while people approach for photos/petting.
- Possibly, because we started with an adult sloth, ours is not reliable for daytime programs. He is very good for daytime tours with interactions in his holding area and for evening events.
- We bring ours out in his crate, wheel him right under his perch, take the top off of the crate, and train him up on to the perch. At the end of the presentation, we just reverse the process. See Houston Zoo photos below.
Tips on Handling
- Reward, reward, reward. Having an “escape” route is handy when handling, especially in new situations. A perch or a crate gives relief to the handler if the sloth is very exploratory or nervous.
- These animals are very unusual and a crowd favorite. Rainforest message with heavy conservation tone. Since they are so unique, a 30-45 minute presentation is easily obtainable.
- Shade-grown coffee: The original coffee plants that were cultivated could not withstand much sunlight and were therefore grown beneath the canopy of the forest. Due to the popularity of coffee, most strains of coffee plants have been cultivated over time to withstand full sunlight. This has created large-scale deforestation for coffee plantations. Please ask guests to choose organic shade-grown coffee in which the plants are grown beneath the forest canopy, preserving arboreal habitat for animals while the forest floor is being used for human purposes. Look for coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified or marked “Organic Shade-Grown”. http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-beverages/organic-shade-grown-coffee.html http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/agriculture/crops/coffee
- In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspx http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html
Comments from the Rating System
- Downtown Aquarium, Denver: We do not allow touching, but it’s possible. Takes a lot of staff/time, especially for a young animal. Diet/habitat needs make husbandry a challenge.
- National Zoo: Difficult to train; sloths in tall exhibits can only be used for demos when the animal moves into holding spaces.
- Natural Science Center of Greensboro: People love sloths; if you can get one to cooperate by either hanging on you or a branch, they can make a great program animal.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Central and South American rainforests.
4-8 kgs. Long, course hair. Long limbs, pads and toes. Claws are long and sometimes sharp. Teeth are ever-growing with large canines.
Sloths live around 7 years in the wild, 15 or more in captivity. They are solitary animals that breed around the age of 4. The young stay with their mothers for about a year after birth.
Slow moving, sleeping about 20 hours a day. Can be aggressive when threatened and move quickly. Unable to walk on the ground but are good swimmers. Live heir entire lives upside down in trees, only coming down to defecate.
Threats and Conservation Status
Same threats as all rainforest animals, habitat loss and fragmentation.
Did you know…
- There’s a moss that lives on the back of the sloths and only on sloths. There’s a moth that eats only this moss, right off the sloth’s back.
Contributors and Citations
- Downtown Aquarium – Denver
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
Top Photo: By Dave Pape – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1891881