New sloth book features amazing photographs and busts myths [PHOTOS]

first_imgSloths have gained in popularity in recent years but some misconceptions about them remain, such as their being ‘lazy,’ which is not true. Rather, it’s increasingly clear that sloths are quite active and incredibly stealthy.A new book by an award-winning wildlife photographer and a world expert on sloths aims to raise awareness of facts like this, and raise funds for their conservation.Sloths in fact sleep just 8-10 hours a day, and are otherwise quite active. And when they swim, they can move quite quickly.Mongabay interviewed the authors and shares here several of the stunning images printed in the book. Photographer Suzi Eszterhas was working on a story in Costa Rica when she met sloth researcher Dr. Rebecca Cliffe for the first time. The pair spent weeks in the field together, as she says below, following a mother three-toed sloth and her tiny baby. Some days the pair spent hours lying on the forest floor, just staring up at the mother sloth, “hundreds of feet up in a tree. But other days she came down low to feed, and even crawled across the forest floor in front of us…presenting the most incredible photo opportunities.”Incredible images were indeed the result. Another outcome was that during all that time spent sloth-watching, the photographer and sloth expert decided to publish a book meant to raise awareness and support for the species’ conservation. The result is a fantastic new book, “Sloths: Life in the slow lane,” and the pair discussed it with Mongabay recently.Brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) newborn (less than 1 week old) clinging to mother, Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica. Twig in background digitally removed. Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA CLIFFE AND SUZI ESZTERHASErik Hoffner for Mongabay: Why do we all seem to love sloths? Rebecca Cliffe: Sloths are evolutionary oddballs. We are often led to believe that the most successful animals are those which are the fiercest, fastest or the most intelligent, yet [sloths] have managed to hang around for over 64 million years, making them one of the most ancient species of mammals, by basically doing nothing. As adults, the slow movement and eccentric biology combined with a permanent, enigmatic smile make them intriguingly weird, while baby sloths are cute enough to melt even the coldest of hearts. I think it is this combination of strange and adorable that has resulted in the soaring global popularity of sloths.In terms of conservation, however, increased popularity does not equal increased protection. Sloths are being poached for tourist photo opportunities (‘sloth selfies’) and for the pet trade in massive numbers, and the rainforest is being degraded as more people travel to countries that [have] sloths. With only one baby every 4 years, and a 60% mortality rate in infant sloths, a slow rate of reproduction means that populations are now in rapid decline. This has a knock-on effect for the entire rainforest ecosystem, as sloths are key recyclers of nutrients, and represent a main prey species for many birds of prey (including the harpy eagle) and big cats (jaguars, ocelots and margays). If you take sloths out of the rainforest, everything else suffers as a consequence.Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni). Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.Mongabay: Sloth species range in conservation status from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ and even ‘of least concern’ in some cases. Do you have a favorite species, and what’s its status?Rebecca Cliffe: I am fascinated by all sloths, but as a biologist I think my preference probably lies with the Bradypus family. This group takes the sloth lifestyle to the extreme a little more – they have a slower metabolism, slower rate of digestion, slower movement, more specific diet, and they are still very poorly understood, as they do not survive well in captivity. Within this family I have worked mostly with the brown-throated sloths that are currently listed as ‘least concern,’ however I believe this is likely due to a lack of population data. There are no accurate population estimates for sloths as they are so difficult to observe in the wild, but based on numbers being admitted to rescue centers, populations are almost certainly in decline.Suzi Eszterhas: Definitely the Bradypus family for me too. As a photographer, I find their perma-grin look particularly endearing. They are also easier to photograph than their more nocturnal two-fingered cousins. As far as a specific species in the Bradypus family, I can’t pick one. They are all absolutely charming!Male brown-throated three-toed sloth, (Bradypus variegatus), Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica (captive: rescued and in rehabilitation program). Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.Mongabay: How did a sloth expert and a renowned wildlife photographer come together for this book project?Suzi Eszterhas: I first met Rebecca while working on a sloth story in Costa Rica. She was working on her PhD at the time and we spent weeks in the field together, following a mother three-toed sloth and her tiny, two-week-old baby. Some days we spent hours lying on the forest floor, staring up at a small patch of the mother’s fur, barely visible, hundreds of feet up in a tree. But other days she came down low to feed, and even crawled across the forest floor in front of us, with her tiny baby clinging to her chest – presenting the most incredible photo opportunities.During our days slogging through the jungle and laying on that muddy forest floor, Rebecca regaled me with fascinating information about the life of these mysterious animals. Her passion for sloths was contagious. And her quirky, hilarious personality was incredibly entertaining. We quickly became friends and hatched a plan to photograph sloths throughout Central and South America.Mongabay: The book is packed with great images of sloths and also shares new science. Can you talk about something Mongabay readers may not yet know about sloth behavior or ecology that’s in there?Rebecca Cliffe: The main message I wanted to get across with this book is to dispel the long-held notion that sloths are simple, lazy creatures that do little other than sleep all day. As we learn more about these animals through research, it is becoming apparent that their slow movement is in fact a deliberate and incredibly successful survival strategy. Rather than lazy, sloths are incredibly stealthy – so stealthy that they have fooled even the most eagle-eyed scientists for many decades. Throughout the book we explore this theory and present a new view of sloths that might be surprising to a lot of people.Rebecca Cliffe measuring the arm of adult male brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica. Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.Mongabay: OK, so ‘slothful’ is a misnomer, and rather than being lazy, sloths keep to a slow pace for strategic reasons. And while individuals in captivity may sleep most of the day, in nature, aren’t they much more active? Rebecca Cliffe: Sloths in nature aren’t lazy at all, but they are certainly slow. While they only sleep between 8 to 10 hours per day – and I know many humans who sleep more than that – they move slowly for the rest of the time and split activity randomly throughout the day and night. All of this works as a survival strategy, as their predators do not identify slow moving things, and cannot predict at what time of day the sloths will be vulnerable. The only time sloths do manage to pick up a bit of speed – other than when they fall out of a tree – which happens an astonishing amount – is when they find themselves in water. This can be to cross a river or – in the case of the pygmy sloths – when they need to swim through the ocean that surrounds their island home. Sloths are entirely buoyant thanks to their oversized, gassy stomachs, and so a sloth in water can float along three times faster than it can move on the ground!Mongabay: So Suzi, how did you manage to get the incredible images of sloths swimming?Suzi Eszterhas: It took five days for me to get this shot. And yes, I did take it underwater by swimming with the sloth. There are a few wildlife experiences in my life that stand above the rest, and this is definitely one of them. Swimming with this sloth was a magical, intimate encounter that rivals experiences I have had sitting with mountain gorillas and floating with humpback whales. This career is a great privilege.Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) swimming among mangrove forest, Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.Mongabay: What are the main conservation challenges faced by sloths?Rebecca Cliffe: Sloths are the ultimate creatures of habit, which means that they cannot adapt to the quickly changing modern world. They are not physically able to jump across gaps in the canopy as a monkey might, so they heavily depend on continuous rainforest in order to move from tree to tree. Unfortunately, the sloths’ remaining habitat is becoming more and more disturbed. Roads, farms, towns and cities now dominate the landscape, cutting the once continuous forest into smaller and more isolated segments. This is forcing sloths to descend to the ground where they become incredibly vulnerable. All over Central and South America sloths are being hit by cars, attacked by dogs, electrocuted on power lines, and poached for the pet trade. As if this isn’t enough, they are also now facing the problems of inbreeding as sloth populations are becoming isolated due to habitat fragmentation. The only way forward is to promote education, protect the remaining forest and work to connect the fragmented forests with canopy bridges and natural corridors.Four-month-old pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Photo by Suzi Eszterhas.Mongabay: What do you hope the book will achieve and change in the world? Suzi Eszterhas: As the photographer, it is my hope that the images in this book will give people a glimpse into the life of these incredibly mysterious creatures. I hope that by seeing their beauty and vulnerability, readers will feel compelled to do something to help protect sloths from deforestation and other threats they face. The Sloth Conservation Foundation is the world’s only organization with the mission to conserve sloths in the wild and I am immensely proud that our book is helping to raise funds for their programs.Rebecca Cliffe: I hope this book will help to change the perception of sloths away from the lazy stereotype that they have been plagued with for centuries. To instill a sense of admiration and intrigue about these animals is the only way that people will feel inspired to join us in the battle to save the worlds slowest mammal! Proceeds from the sale of this book are going directly towards supporting the work of the Sloth Conservation Foundation, a registered non-profit organization that is working to protect sloths in the wild. More information about our sloth conservation efforts and ways in which you can get involved can be found on our website, Rebecca Cliffe is a British zoologist, a leading authority on sloths, and the founder and executive director of the Sloth Conservation Foundation. Suzi Eszterhas is an award-winning wildlife photographer best known for her work documenting newborn animals and family life in the wild.  Her photographs have been published in over 100 magazine cover and feature stories. Suzi has sixteen books in print with another four in progress. Biodiversity, Happy-upbeat Environmental, Illegal Trade, Interviews, Photography, Rainforests, Sloths, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Crime, Wildlife Trade, Wildlife Trafficking Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. 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