It is not every day a sloth is born at Fota Wildlife Park in Co Cork - in fact it’s the first time so it’s hardly surprising that Fota management are celebrating and inviting the public to come up with a name for their latest arrival.
The baby sloth, whose gender is still unknown, was born following a gestation of six months to mother, Talyta and father, Matheo on April 30th, displaying an impeccable sense of time as its home in the Tropical House had just re-opened to the public after closure due to the Covid pandemic.
Lead Ranger, Julien Fonteneau explained that Matheo, who is four and a half years old, came to Fota from Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart in Germany in 2019 while mother Talyta, who is three years old, arrived in Fota from Papiliorama Swiss Tropical Gardens in November 2020.
“Fota Wildlife Park is delighted to announce the birth of a baby sloth. Not only does the Wildlife Park have great success breeding the fastest land animal, the cheetah and the tallest land animal in the world, the cheetah, we have now also bred the world’s slowest moving animal, the sloth.”
Mr Fonteneau explained that the Linné's two-toed sloth, which is native to South America, can grow up to 65cm and live on average 20 years in the wilderness and up to 40 years in captivity but getting a glimpse of Fota’s latest arrival can be elusive due to the animal’s nocturnal nature.
“Young sloths will cling to their mother’s belly for approximately five weeks until they have the strength to move on their own. The little one is already pulling at leaves and other foods we give to the adults, although not leaving the mother’s safety on its own yet.”
Sloths eat, sleep, mate, and give birth from their upside-down position high among the branches and to accommodate their upside-down lifestyle, the hair in the middle of the belly grows up towards the back while their face hair points upward, allowing water to run off during rainstorms, he said.
Sloths, which sleep on average 15-20 hours a day, spend almost their entire life suspended from trees and the only time they descend to the forest floor is to go to defecate and urinate, which they do about once a week, he added.
But sloths, who are solitary except when they mate high in the treetops, are strong swimmers and to move to a new area of trees, they often wait for the forest to flood so that they can swim to a new resting and feeding site.
“Their diet primarily consists of various leaves, stems, buds, and a selection of fruit but insects are also consumed. This type of diet requires a specialised digestive system and sloths possess a large, four-chambered stomach, like cows.”
Mr Foneneau explained that while bacteria in the sloth’s guts helps it to digest large amount of plant matter, the animal’s adherence to such a heavily leafy diet with a low nutritional value means sloths are slow to exert themselves unless necessary.
“Predators such as jaguars and ocelots, harpy eagles, and anacondas pose a threat to sloths in their native habitats. They defend themselves with their sharp claws and teeth, and if required, sloths can move quickly through the trees to evade capture.”
But Fota’s newest arrival will face no such threats in the park’s Tropical House and Mr Fonteneau and his colleagues are hoping that the public will take to the newly born sloth and come up with an interesting name for him or her.
Mr Fonteneau said: “We are urging people to help us come up with a name for the baby sloth via the blog, www.fotawildlife.ie/news, and to be in with a chance to win a conservation annual pass and we’re hoping we are going to get a big response.”