Endangered Species of the Week: Sloth

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Sloths—the sluggish tree-dwellers of Central and South America—spend their lives in the tropical rain forests. They move through the canopy at a rate of about 40 yards per day, munching on leaves, twigs and buds. Sloths have an exceptionally low metabolic rate and spend 15 to 20 hours per day sleeping. And surprisingly enough, the long-armed animals are excellent swimmers. They occasionally drop from their treetop perches into water for a paddle.

There are two different types of sloths, two-toed and three-toed, and six species:

  • Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)
  • Maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus)
  • Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus)
  • Brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
  • Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus)
  • Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)

Of those, the pygmy sloth is critically endangered and the maned sloth is vulnerable.

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Sloths are an integral part of tropical rain forest ecosystems. Among the most common mid-sized mammals in Central and South American rain forests is the brown-throated sloth.

The health of sloth populations is wholly dependent on the health of tropical rain forests. But tropical rain forests are at risk of deforestation. Without an abundance of trees, sloths will lose their shelter and food source. When sloths come to the forest floor—which they do once a week to relieve themselves—they are more exposed to predators and can do little to fend them off.

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