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Pygmy sloths rescued by locals and conservationists
Conservationists and inhabitants of Escudo de Veraguas Island, a tiny island in the Bocas del Toro province, stopped a plane carrying six rare pygmy three-toed sloths that were destined to form part of the Dallas World Aquarium collection, in the United States. This mammal is only found in this particular area and it is an endangered species.
The decision to maintain these animals in captivity in the United States angered the inhabitants of the province and local ecologists. They held a vigil and invaded the Isla Colón Airport runway to stop the plane from taking off. The pilots unloaded the boxes containing the animals to be returned to their habitat by a boat provided by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
The pygmy three-toed sloth, four times smaller than a normal sloth, was only recognized as a distinct species in 2001. It can only be found on Isla Escudo de Veraguas which has been separated from mainland Panama for 9,000 years. Famous for its slow movements the sloth is ideally suited to life in the mangroves and is surprisingly good at swimming. The major threat to the animal is habitat destruction which is reducing the size of its already small habitat.
Luis Sinclair of the Dallas World Aquarium explained that his organization has been studying the sloth population in the Escudo de Veraguas Island and they had proposed to National Environmental Authority (ANAM) to have a population of these animals in captivity and contribute to their conservation, but they were unable to produce the ANAM permits to take them abroad.
The Dallas World Aquarium’s actions were condemned by scientists around the world, like Bryson Voirin from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who has been studying these animals for years and feels that this incident will negatively affect the relationship scientists and conservationists have with the community.