The Costa Rican Animal Shelter That’s Rescuing Baby Sloths

How do you dry a sloth? You hang it up, of course. No clothespins necessary!

Wednesday is bath day at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, but the babies are not too happy about it.

With the most adorable squeaks and whines, they endure a sudsy scrub, followed by an herbal dip. The leaves in the herbal brew help to keep the little ones free of parasites.

After the baths, the fun begins.

One by one, the young sloths are hung up to dry on a climbing apparatus near the tubs.

“We like to drip dry them a while before we blot them with a towel,” a sanctuary worker explained.

Squeaking more with annoyance than distress, the sloths endure the attention. Afterwards, they are rewarded with that delicious sloth delicacy, a hibiscus flower.


These adorable babies aren’t going to make a quick escape, because sloths are the slowest mammals in the world. Moving about their natural treetop home, they only travel around six to eight feet per minute. They move so slowly that algae actually grows on their fur. This provides exceptional camouflage for animals that have little to offer in the way of defense.

Sloths do have very long claws, but they are used primarily to hold onto the branches, where they spend almost all of their lives. They only go to solid ground to relieve themselves, but they enjoy a good swim now and then. Dropping into rivers or lakes from overhanging vines, the long-armed beasts easily move about using a stroke similar to a human breaststroke.

Their diet consists of rough leaves that are difficult to digest. Digestion is as slow as everything else about these unusual animals. They have a four-part stomach that breaks down the leaves with bacteria. It can take up to four months to process a single meal.

Young sloths cling to their mothers for several weeks after birth, and then stay with them for as many as four years afterward.

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica began in 1992 when three girls brought Judy and Luis Arroyo a tiny, orphaned sloth baby. While they found the youngster adorable, they had no idea how to care for it. Not even zoos were able to give advice on nurturing a wild sloth.

The Arroyos began feeding the baby, named Buttercup, the kinds of leaves they saw wild sloths eating near their home.

Two years after Buttercup’s arrival, a bus driver brought them another infant sloth. Soon the word was out that the Arroyos were good with sloths, and more and more injured or orphaned animals arrived.

In 1997 they became an authorized sloth rescue center.

These days, 23-year-old Buttercup greets tour visitors from a customized basket chair in the sanctuary lobby.

There are now three generations of the Arroyo family living and working at the sanctuary. They have rescued more than 500 sloths.

The goal is rehabilitation, and 120 have been released back into their home territories. The permanent residents were mostly rescued as infants and never had an opportunity to learn survival skills from their mother. A few are adults who have injuries or disabilities that would prevent their survival in the wild.

The sanctuary has an alliance with the Dallas World Aquarium, and together they provide conservation and education programs.  Onsite veterinarians help to keep the small charges in the best of health.

Buttercup and the Sloth Sanctuary became internationally famous after “Meet the Sloths” aired on the Animal Planet TV network.

To learn more about the sanctuary, click here to visit their website.