Sloth sanctuaries in Costa Rica

Saskia Watts shares her passion for Costa Rica's unique inhabitants

Sheltering over 5% of Earth’s biodiversity, Costa Rica is a country that proudly boasts 20 natural parks, 8 biological reserves and several non-profit animal sanctuaries that aim to save the animal inhabitants of the rainforests and oceans, and the places they call home. 

2 of the 500,000 species found in Costa Rica are the Bradypus variegatus and Choloepus hoffmanni, or the three-toed and two-toed sloths to me and you. Sloths are unique animals: they’re the world’s slowest mammal, and spend most of their time hanging from branches and as a result grow algae on their fur that helps them blend in with their habitat. Whilst their main predators are jaguars and the harpy eagle, these primarily nocturnal and peaceful animals are increasingly finding themselves under threat from human activity. Many young sloths find themselves orphaned due to the death of their mother through the result of electrocution or dog attacks. Two-toed sloths will typically spend 2 years learning to survive in the wild by their mother’s side, while the three-toed variety only require between 6 months and 1 year. However, no matter how long or short a time is required to learn how to be a fully functioning sloth, these months are crucial in the young’s development.

When visiting Costa Rica, the Sloth Sanctuary, situated along the Estrella River near Penshurt is a must-visit for sloth fans, and anyone interested in animal conservation in general. Offering the ‘Insider’s Tour’ to small groups, they offer you the chance to see how the sanctuary is run, and the ‘behind-the-scenes’ goings on. On top of this, you get to enjoy a light lunch with the now virally-famous Buttercup, the three-toed sloth. 

But no need to worry if your itinerary doesn’t feature a visit to the east coast! Quepos, about 125km (78 miles) from San José on the west coast is home to Kids Saving the Rainforest. This organisation was founded in 1999 by two young girls, aged just 9 years old. Since then, KSTR has grown into a project whose sanctuary and projects have aided in saving hundreds of animals, and educating just as many humans. Kids Saving the Rainforest also offer a sanctuary tour, where you can meet monkeys up close, as well as seeing the rescued sloths having their morning feed. All of the money garnered from these tours goes towards future projects that make protecting these animals, and the rainforest an easier task. However, if a simple tour will not sate your need for involvement with these precious creatures, KSTR also offer a volunteering program, with full training being provided to applicants from any background.

If you’re interested in sharing a meal with 23-year old Buttercup whilst she lounges in her hanging basket chair, check out the Sloth Sanctuary website here:

If it’s a more hands-on approach you’re after, Kids Saving the Rainforest has volunteer programs for all ages and abilities:

Show your support for sloths!

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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