Sloths are known for being notoriously slow, but when faced with certain situations, it turns out that they can be quite fast. In a recent video shared by Steven Vela, a guide for Canoa Aventura, he and a group of tourists in Costa Rica witnessed an event rarely seen by humans – the birth of a three-toed sloth.
As he was driving near Arenal Volcano National Park, Steven spotted a brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus) lounging in a tree. He pulled over to see the elusive creature, but he had no idea that the animal was in the final stages of labor.
What happened next was something that nobody saw coming – a baby sloth suddenly slipped out of the animal’s grasp! Thankfully, instead of plummeting to the forest floor below, the baby dangled from its umbilical cord. For the world’s slowest mammal, this particular sloth knew she had to act fast.
Seconds after her baby fell, the mother promptly reached down and grabbed her young. She then began licking it clean, as if comforting it from the disconcerting experience.
Steven, who’s been a tour guide with Canoa Adventura for eight years, told CNN, “It’s definitely the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
It may have been a crazy sight, but Steven and the tourists who witnessed the birth of this three-toed sloth are considered lucky. Sloths spend the majority of their lives lounging in trees. They are naturally shy creatures, and they only visit the ground when they need to defecate or find a new tree.
Doing both leaves them vulnerable, so they have learned to do almost everything high up in the canopy. The trees serve as their sleeping, mating, eating, and birthing place!
To see one giving birth out in the open is very special; it’s an experience that only a few are fortunate enough to have. Sloth births have been witnessed in the wild before, but having it filmed is rare. Thanks to Steven’s camera and perfect timing, the whole event was recorded on video.
“That was something amazing,” Steven, who captured every second of the heart-stopping event, told National Geographic via Facebook message. “I think I will die and I will never see something like that [again].”
Is this nerve-wracking sloth birth a one-off case? Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, the creator of the Sloth Conservation Foundation in Costa Rica, says that it probably isn’t.
“I suspect that this may happen in a surprisingly high number of sloth births,” she said. “From the limited number of three-fingered sloth birth observations that we know about, this has happened in a high proportion of cases.”
When giving birth, sloths descend to a lower height in the canopy as a precautionary measure. This is to prevent injury of her young in case it falls to the ground. It also cuts the distance that the mother needs to travel to collect her baby from the ground when it falls.
Watch the video explanation below by Zookeeper Jawnie about the heart-stopping sloth birth in Costa Rica.
Despite the anxiety-filled delivery, the sloth mother and her baby are both doing well. According to Steven, the duo remained in the same area. It’s good to know that these creatures are both safe!