Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth Population Down to Less Than 100

05/29/2012

Sloth

Maybe it's their tousled hair, pug nose, or their laid-back, leisurely demeanor, but few animals are at once so raggedy and charming as sloths. That's just part of what makes this news so unpleasant: the world's smallest species of sloth, the pygmy three-toed sloth, is in imminent risk of extinction after a recent survey of their population counted less than 100, reports mongabay.com.

Described for the first time in 2001, pygmy sloths are listed as number 16 in the world's 100 most unique and imperiled mammals, compiled by ZSL's EDGE program. The entire species is found on a single island, Escudo Island, off the coast of Panama. They are believed to be descendants of the mainland population of brown-throated three-toed sloths which became marooned on the island some 9,000 years ago. The population eventually evolved into a new species through insular dwarfism.

Aside from being miniature versions of their mainland cousins, pygmy sloths are also the world's slowest sloth. They are also completely docile and unafraid of humans, which is a common behavior found in many species that evolve on islands devoid of natural predators.

"When they see me they have no clue what to think. They must just think I am some big, very strange sloth coming to say hello," said sloth researcher Bryson Voirin to mongabay.com.

[Related: Watch Baby Sloths Get Swaddled!]

Unfortunately, it's their docile nature that could be putting them in peril. Human impacts such as deforestation and hunting could be adding stress to the animals, and their island home is increasingly becoming a stopover for local fishermen who sometimes bring families and even their dogs ashore. Until more conservation research is performed, though, the exact cause of their plummeting numbers cannot be known for sure.

The good news is that Escudo Island has already been designated a protected area, and a conservation plan is currently being drafted thanks to funds provided by ZSL (donate here). A few of the options being considered include strengthening coalitions with local communities, reforesting Escudo's declining mangroves, and possibly even breeding sloths in captivity.

Check out the following video, provided by Hidden Clover, for a presentation about Escudo Island and its unique sloths:

 

Header Photo: HiddenCloverVideos/YouTube

By Bryan Nelson


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