Sloth is Not a Sin

Sloth is Not a Sin

It's not really up for debate; sloths are really cute. Sleepy and cuddly and furry, but still often misunderstood. Judy and her #family run the Sloth Sanctuary in #CostaRica, which has rehabilitated 120 sloths over 15 years and released them back into the #wild. Over time, the sloths become part of the family.


Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

Slowly. Just a little. He gradually opens his eyes.

He looks around, lazily surveying the scene before him. Presumably the tree is the same and the walls are the same. The blurry shadows of people seen through dozy eyes look a bit different. But new people coming in here is normal. Everything seems in place and he closes his eyes again and drifts off.

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Insider’s Tour

Family
 Penshurt, Limon, Costa Rica
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This is life for a sloth here at the Sloth Sanctuary on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It is the refuge for local animals that have been injured or orphaned and need some gentle care.

The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica
As their name suggests, these little guys love to sleep

“It came on completely not under our control,” owner Judy Avey-Arroyo explains. “We gave in to the sloths 21 years ago.”

We gave in to the sloths 21 years ago.

Judy is American and she started the sanctuary with her late Costa Rican husband. It happened when they were setting up a hotel for birdwatchers – but animal welfare was never part of the original plan. It was all because of Buttercup.

animal welfare was never part of the original plan. It was all because of Buttercup
Judy, the founder of the Sloth Sanctuary

“As we were building the hotel, Buttercup was rescued by some neighbour girls,” Judy points to the gentle-looking sloth hanging in a basket near us.

“Her mother had been killed by a car. They brought her here and we didn’t know what to do with her so we tried to place her where we thought someone would know more about sloths… and no one knew. No one wanted the responsibility so it fell to my husband and I.”

Two years later another sloth came, and then another one...

“And she thrived and two years later another sloth came, and then another one and soon we just kind of gave in to it and decided this is what we’re going to do, is rescue sloths and rehabilitate them.”

Tree branch homes for the sleepy sloths

The sanctuary grew in reputation over the years. 

The plan to build the hotel for birdwatchers was put on the backburner and instead they opened their arms to these beautiful and docile natives of Costa Rica. 

The plan to build the hotel for birdwatchers was put on the backburner and instead they opened their arms to these beautiful and docile natives

The Sloth Sanctuary is now the first place the locals bring injured animals they find. It means a lot of work.

The Sanctuary is the place to bring a sloth in need

“A normal day starts at six o’clock in the morning,” Judy tells me.

“My staff is here, they’re cleaning out the enclosures, they’re monitoring what the sloths have eaten overnight what they’ve eliminated, all those details are very important. The sloths are then fed, cared for – my veterinarian is on duty six days a week. And between all of that we receive guests and show them around.”

The Sanctuary opened up to guests

Visiting Costa Rica's Sloth Sanctuary

Today I’m one of the guests. I’ve turned up without a booking and it’s unusually busy with a local school group which has fundraised all year to come here. But a tour for tourists is also about to start and I join two other visitors on that.

The Sloth Sanctuary is a family affair. 

It’s Judy’s daughter who greeted me at the entrance and now it’s her grandson, Jeffery Rochte, who’s leading the tour. He’s 28 years old and has spent the past 9 years in Costa Rica working at the sanctuary.

Judy's grandson, Jeffery, leads tours

He introduces us to the sloths as if they’re also part of the family. 

He introduces us to the sloths as if they’re also part of the family

In some ways, they are. They all live together and experience each other’s highs and lows. Some of the older ones have been here since they were babies – brought in as young orphans and unable to return to the wild because they’ve never learnt to fend for themselves.

In many ways the sloths are part of the family
Mila sleeps peacefully in her crate
The nursery, which houses new arrivals

At the nursery we see some of the new arrivals. These small little bundles of fur and noses have come in for various reasons. Some were healthy but alone. Others were injured or ill. The biggest threats for sloths in Costa Rica are electrocution from power lines, dog attacks, car accidents or, would you believe it, violence from children who don’t understand what they are.

“We’re encroaching into their territory and this is what’s happening to them,” Judy says with a tinge of sadness.

“They’ve survived 65 million years, withstanding ice ages and tropical storms and moving up and down the continents of the Americas and surviving. 

They’ve survived 65 million years, withstanding ice ages and tropical storms and moving up and down the continents of the Americas and surviving

All of a sudden we come into the picture and they’re in trouble.”

The nursery is arguably the cutest part
Jeffery cuddles with a Sanctuary resident

Unfortunately it’s a story that’s all too common. The reach of man is sweeping aside millions of years of natural order. 

The reach of man is sweeping aside millions of years of natural order

Individuals like Judy Avey-Arroyo and her family are trying to restore some balance, though. 

The Sloth Sanctuary receives no funding from outside organisations. The main sources of income are from visitors and private donations. 

The main sources of income are from visitors and private donations

Using that money and a lot of devotion, the sanctuary has reintroduced into the wild about 120 sloths over the past 15 years.

About 120 sloths have been rehabilitated here

Over that time, Judy has come to understand the animal better than most people. But they still amaze her.

“They don’t obey the laws of other animals,” she says.

They don’t obey the laws of other animals.

“They’re totally different from other animals. Their medical needs, how they survive in the wild is completely different. We can’t pattern or guess how they might react to different things.”

This furry guy is getting the help he needs

“What we’ve learnt is that they’re the original zen masters.

What we’ve learnt is that they’re the original zen masters

They have gotten life down to a fine art. I mean, they lay in the branches and bask in the sun, reach out to pull a leaf to their mouth.”

“We think they’re from another galaxy,” Judy laughs.

Maybe they are… who knows? All we do know is that they’re here on our planet. For now.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Costa Rica but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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