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NGSS: Core Idea: LS2.C

CCSS: Reading Informational Text: 2

TEKS: Science: 3.9A, 3.10A, 4.10A, 5.9A, 5.9C, 5.10A; ELA: 3.7D, 4.7D, 5.7D, 6.10A

Hanging Tough

Rescuers use a sloth sporting event to help save one of the world’s slowest animals

Mark Kostich/E+/Getty Images

Three-Toed Sloths

✓ have three claws on their front limbs

✓ have coarse, mostly gray fur

✓ are diurnal (more activeduring the day than night)

✓ include four of the six sloth species

Ready, set, GO! A group of competitors takes off from the starting line. But they don’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Why not? The athletes are sloths—one of the slowest animals on Earth!

The race is part of an event called the Sloth Ironman Games. It’s held every October at the Toucan Rescue Ranch, a wildlife center in Costa Rica. Sloths face off in games including a climbing race and a flower-eating contest (see Sloth Sporting Events). The animals don’t always cooperate. “Sometimes they go completely in the wrong direction!” says Zara Palmer, who runs the event.

Ready, set, GO! A group of contestants takes off from the starting line. But they don’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Why not? The athletes are sloths. They’re one of the slowest animals on Earth!

The race is part of the Sloth Ironman Games. The event is held every October. It takes place at the Toucan Rescue Ranch. It’s a wildlife center in Costa Rica. Sloths face off in games. The games include a climbing race and a flower-eating contest (see Sloth Sporting Events). The animals don’t always do what’s expected. “Sometimes they go completely in the wrong direction!” says Zara Palmer. She runs the event.

The games are fun, but they have a serious purpose. Organizers want to spread the word about the dangers sloths face in the tropical rainforests where they live. All the sloths in the Ironman Games were injured or orphaned in the wild. Rescuers in Costa Rica are caring for them and working to save their forest home. 

The games are fun. But they have a serious purpose. All the sloths in the Ironman Games were injured or orphaned in the wild. Rescuers in Costa Rica care for them. They’re also working to save tropical rainforests. That’s where the animals live. The games help spread the word about the dangers sloths face.

The Slow Life

Sloths are known for their super-slow lifestyle. They spend most of their time hanging upside down in the forest canopy in South and Central America. Sloths eat, give birth, and even sleep in this position! Their powerful claws help them grip onto branches as they move slowly through the trees. You can tell the two main types—two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths—by the number of claws on these front paws.

Sloths are found in South and Central America. They live in the forest canopy. They spend most of their time hanging upside down. Sloths eat, give birth, and even sleep in this position! Sloths are known for being really slow. They creep through the trees. They have powerful claws. Their help them grip onto branches. There are two main types of sloths. Their front paws have a different number of claws. The two-toed sloth has two claws. The three-toed sloth has three. 

Courtesy of Toucan Rescue Ranch

Two-Toed Sloths 

✓ have two claws on their front paws

✓ have soft, mostly brown fur

✓ are nocturnal (more active at night than daytime)

✓ include two of the six sloth species

Scientists think sloths’ extreme slowness helps them survive. The forest is full of predators like jaguars and hawks. But those animals have a hard time spotting sloths in the treetops. Tiny plant-like organisms called algae grow on sloths’ fur. That gives them a green tint and helps them blend in.  

Unfortunately, sloths’ habitat is disappearing. People are cutting down the trees to make room for buildings and roads. On the ground, sloths are often attacked by dogs or run over by cars. “Sloths now face a lot of new dangers because of humans,” says Sam Trull. She’s the founder of the Sloth Institute, an organization that rescues sloths that have been affected by deforestation. It’s Trull’s mission to keep these slowpokes safe. 

Scientists think being super-slow helps sloths survive. The forest is full of predators. Jaguars and hawks hunt there. But sloths stay still high in the treetops. Predators have a hard time spotting them. Tiny plant-like algae grow on sloths’ fur. That gives them a green tint. It helps them blend in.  

Sadly, sloths’ habitat is shrinking. People are cutting down the trees. The want to make room for buildings and roads. Dogs often attack sloths on the ground. Sometimes cars run them over. “Sloths now face a lot of new dangers because of humans,” says Sam Trull. She’s the founder of the Sloth Institute. Her group rescues sloths harmed by deforestation. It’s Trull’s mission to keep these slowpokes safe. 

Sloth Snuggles

Trull moved to Costa Rica in 2007 to study primates like monkeys. Instead, she fell in love with sloths. Many of the sloths at the Sloth Institute have been badly hurt. Some have fallen from trees. Others have been injured by electric wires or attacked by animals.  

The baby sloths that have lost their mothers need a lot of love and care. In the wild, they hold tight to their mother as she hangs from trees. “They cling to mom 24 hours a day,” says Trull. To mimic this experience, Trull often straps baby sloths to her chest. 

Trull moved to Costa Rica in 2007. She wanted to study animals like monkeys there. Instead, she fell in love with sloths. Many of the sloths at the Sloth Institute have been badly hurt. Some have fallen from trees or been hurt by Electric wires. Others have been attacked by animals.

Some of the sloths are babies. They have lost their mothers. They need a lot of love and care. Mother sloths hang from trees in the wild. Their babies grip tight to their mommas’ tummies. “They cling to mom 24 hours a day,” says Trull. Trull often straps baby sloths to her chest. It copies this experience.

Courtesy of Sam Trull

Zoologist Sam Trull examines a three-toed sloth.

It can take years to teach sloths the skills they need to return to the wild. Workers place sloths in a large outdoor pen to help them become comfortable in the forest. Sloths gradually spend more time outside the pen until they’re ready to stay there for good. 

Orphan sloths need to learn a lot of skills. Then they can return to the wild. It can take years to teach them what they need to know. Workers place sloths in a large outdoor pen. It helps them get used to the forest. Sloths spend more and more time outside the pen. Eventually, they’re ready to stay there for good. 

Saving Sloths

Trull’s team is helping sloths in other ways too. Where there are gaps in the canopy, workers are using ropes to connect the trees. Sloths can climb this “sloth speedway” to stay safely away from dangers on the ground.

Trull’s team is helping sloths in other ways too. There are gaps in the forest canopy. Workers string ropes between them. Sloths can climb this “sloth speedway.” It helps keep them away from dangers on the ground.

Lucy Cooke/Barcroft Images

Young sloths snuggle with each other for comfort.

The Sloth Institute also works with the Toucan Rescue Ranch to raise money to protect sloths. The annual Sloth Ironman Games are part of that effort. The ranch streams the games online and encourages viewers to donate to support sloth conservation.

Every year, a new group of sloths compete in the Sloth Ironman Games. Organizers are excited to see what will happen this year. “You never know who will win,” says Palmer. “Sometimes they go straight for the finish. Other times they want to take a nap!”

The Sloth Institute works with the Toucan Rescue Ranch. They raise money to protect sloths. The annual Sloth Ironman Games are part of that effort. The ranch shares the games online. Viewers can donate to support saving sloths.

A new group of sloths compete in each Sloth Ironman Games. Organizers are excited to see what will happen this year. “You never know who will win,” says Palmer. “Sometimes they go straight for the finish. Other times they want to take a nap!”

Courtesy of Sam Trull

Sloths are fitted with special tracking collars before they are released. 

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