Getting to know the Sloth: the gardener of the forest

The pigmy sloth.

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Getting to know the Sloth: the gardener of the forest


From Saturday, December 16 the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve, is the permanent setting of the first permanent Sloth Sanctuary in Panama and it will invite you to know more about this important animal that inhabits the Panamanian forests.

In the country you can find three of the six species that inhabit the tropical forest of Central and South America. The three species that live in the Isthmus are:

Hoffman sloth: (Cholloepus Hoffmanni), it has two fingered claws at the front and three at the back, and they can measure 80 centimeters and weigh around 18 pounds.

The three fingered claws sloth (Bradypus variegatus): it is the species better distributed in comparison with the others. It can be found in all Latin American tropical forests. Its digestion is slower due to its slow metabolism, and for that reason can be almost invisible in the dense tropical jungle.

The pigmy sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus): it is the smallest and the most endangered. It suffers from insular dwarfism, and that explains its size. It inhabits the Escudo de Veraguas Island, Bocas del Toro province, specifically in the Mangle Rojo Coast, that occupies three square kilometers of the island. They live on the coast, because they eat mainly this kind of mangrove. Its population has diminished so much the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUNC), has put it in the list of the “critical endangered” species.


The pigmy sloth.

The pigmy sloth.


The slouth are folivore mammals (animals that eat leaves) and spend most of their time hanging from trees. They belong to the Pilosa order and the Xenarthra superorder. They are close relatives of the anteaters and distant relatives of the armadillos. The three clawed sloth belong to the “Bradypodidae” family and the two clawed to the Megalonychidae family.

They mainly eat leaves, flowers and on occasions, the two clawed sloth consume fruits. The three clawed sloth favorite food is cecropia, better known in Panama as the “guarumo tree”. It also eats the leaves of other tropical trees like the ceibo barrigón (Pseudobombax septenatum), Cuipo (Cavanillesia platanifolia), Espave (Anacardium excelsum), gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba), among others.

Its main predators are: the Harpy Eagle, the Jaguar and the Ocelot. The average lifespan of a slough is between 15 to 20 years, but currently all species are under threat due to indiscriminate cutting of the forest and brush fires.

The importance of the sloth in the forest is fundamental, because it is the “Gardener of the Forests”, they are called that because they are excellent at distributing seeds, because of its slow digestion, they can disseminate seeds during its journey. Also its feces at the base of the trees serve as fertilizer.

It is one of the animals which can get to the highest part of the trees, feeding on the tender of shoot, helping trees with this natural trimming to grow stronger.


A rescued sloth is taken to its new home.

A rescued sloth is taken to its new home.


How to help a sloth cross the Street in five steps


1. Put it in the direction it was going, do not return it to the point of origin. If you are afraid to touch it use a branch, towel or any available object.

2.Grab it by the hair on its back with one hand and extended arm.

3.Check that there are not cars coming before crossing the road.

4.Put it on a tree, the highest part of the tree.

5.Once the sloth grabs the tree, go away immediately.


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