Before I visited Costa Rica the animal I most wanted to see was a sloth. I’d read they were not easy to get close to as they spend most of their time in the branches of trees, either eating or sleeping. There are two sorts of sloth – two toed and three toed. “Toes” is a rather misleading description of their long claws, which look like lethal talons, but they use these to hang on branches, and I guess if you spend a lot of time asleep, hanging upside down, you need something pretty substantial to keep you safely in place up there in the trees.
According to our guides, sloths only come down from the trees when they need to have a poo – and that’s not very often – but when they do come down they’re in danger, if near a road, of being hit by passing cars as they are the slowest moving creatures on earth.
It was with considerale concern that one day, returning from a boat trip, we saw a sloth about to start crossing a busy road. We’d already seen several sloths up in the trees, but this one was up close and in danger. The guide leapt from the bus and carefully picked the sloth up with two hands, gripping the fur on its back. This isn’t recommended as a sloth’s fur is full of parastic lodgers, but the guide was a local man who knew how to handle the animal. At the time he gave out one of those “Don’t try this at home” warnings, saying that a stick should be used to guide the sloth and give it something to hang on to as it’s returned to the safety of the nearest tree. He did it by hand, and the sloth slowly took hold of the trunk and began its slow ascent.
We guessed it had come down to the ground for a poo. We were priviledged to see a sloth at close quarters, and relieved it was helped to safety by someone who knew that they were doing.