Barbara's Wish to Visit with the Sloths
Barbara loves animals, she always has. She wished to be a veterinarian and made it all the way to 9th grade before Biology class and frog dissection interfered with her wish, but she carried on her love for animals in many ways throughout her life. All the pets she has are rescued, she supports nonprofits for animals, she visits places where she could be in proximity of some of her favorites (and she still has a few more trips left in her), and she shares her love of animals with anyone who will listen.
This story was painful for her to write because she's telling the tale of a time when she made a catastrophic mistake. Even the best of intentions does not excuse acting on impulse nor can her wish practice erase the damage done by her innocent visit with one of the most charming species on the planet.
Last year, Barbara went on a cruise to the Caribbean with her sister, a respite after long months of care at the end of their mother's life. The trip was planned rather quickly, and, for that reason, Barbara didn't do her usual research about the environments she would be visiting. She did not think she would be getting off the ship at the ports of call anyway, but when it came to Honduras, Barbara was a little eager to set foot on dry land and do something interesting. There was a shore excursion that offered a visit to an “eco park” and she was intrigued. The bus set out from the port and took the passengers to Mayan Eden Eco Park, depositing them in the care of a young female guide with a friendly smile and an engaging manner.
First, there was a visit with some free-ranging monkeys and birds - Toucans, as she recalled, although they looked like parrots to her. She found that fun and the animals were allowed to visit or not as they pleased.
Then there was an announcement that guests could go further into the park and visit with the sloths. Barbara had no idea what was entailed in making sloths available for “visits” with tourists. She would find out later, but for now, she was simply enchanted to watch and then actually interact with these delicate, remarkable, ultimately brilliant gifts of nature.
The encounter lasted about ten minutes and was supervised by one of the park employees. A young man was holding a sloth named Kana and gently handed her over to Barbara. Kana was a young female sloth. You would think with that beatific smile on her face she was having fun, but that has nothing to do with the emotional status of the young sloth. In all likelihood, because of her “career” as a tourist attraction, Kana is no longer alive. Barbara would later find out that these visits with humans are so stressful for sloths that their lifespans are shortened considerably.
Barbara will tell you that those few minutes with Kana were some of the sweetest of her life. The transfer of Kana from the young man to Barbara involved putting Kana’s arms around Barbara’s neck and her legs around Barbara’s waist. This gentle warm little beast simply clung to a human “tree” for as long as she was allowed.
Eventually, the park employee gently removed Kana and took her to the next tourist. Barbara left with a wistful farewell to Kana and the fondest memories. Back on board, a waitress at lunch asked how she had spent the day. She told her of the visit to the sloths. The waitress innocently responded, “Oh, I’m so glad you got to see the sloths! The last guests told us they were all dead!”
That sent Barbara to the internet to find out more and what she learned was horrifying. Sloths are some of the most trafficked animals in South and Central America. Why? Because they are so easy to catch, so attractive to tourists, and so profitable to sell. There are both organized professional traffickers and individual “entrepreneurs” who separate young sloths from their mothers and sell them by the side of the road.
Not normally a person prone to fits of rage or violence, Barbara has been heard to say she could make exceptions for these traffickers, especially the cartels. From her point of view, greed alone explains why anyone would take these babies away from their mothers, much less subject these gentle creatures to conditions that violate their very biology, torture them while they are alive, and shorten their lifespans drastically and unnecessarily.
You see, the physiology of a sloth has adapted via evolution to accommodate their habitat of tree branches. Their skeletons are literally rearranged to allow their lungs space to breathe while hanging from tree limbs. Holding them in the upright “baby” position - in which Barbara encountered them - puts excess gravitational pressure on their breathing apparatus.
Short of taking up arms and fighting the traffickers, Barbara has searched for ways to support the efforts of more expert and effective anti-trafficking and sloth rescue activities, primarily through the National Geographic Society. (One of their articles on the subject is cited below.) There are some other organizations supporting sloths for which more research is required.
If you, dear reader, know of any effective ways to combat the harms being done to sloths, we urge you to write to us at email@example.com.
Another means available to “speak truth to power” is to write reviews of the organizations that are financing this trafficking, including the Norwegian Cruise Line that sponsors the shore excursions and the Mayan Eden Eco Park that promotes cruelty with these “visits.”
Yet another means is to tell the story, and you, dear reader, are part of that wish come true. By simply reading and perhaps - we can wish - relaying what you have read to others, information can spread, awareness can be raised, and maybe… just maybe… sloths can be saved.
There are no limits on what we can wish. We generally advise making wishes that are outcome-based, so we know when the wish has come true. For Barbara, this limitation is “waived” in this case. Her wish is for an end to the evil that is animal trafficking, and specifically, sloth trafficking. That is achieved with the most possible protection of the existing sloth population. Right next to that wish on her list is one for an end to the senseless deforestation of the habitats of sloths and other priceless wildlife, without which our world would be a much poorer place.
Can you imagine the powerful good that could erupt in the world if each and every one of us formed wishes like these for the benefit of all humanity, the protection of every precious species, and the benevolent stewardship of the planet? We invite you to join us in making your wishes in the spirit of all that. You never know, it just might work!
Thank you for reaching this point in our post. We invite you to read more, starting with the National Geographic article cited below. Please share with us any information or ideas you have about protecting sloths and share what you have learned here with anyone who will listen.
From National Geographic: A notorious sloth cartel kingpin vanished. We tried to find him. In northwestern Colombia, poached baby sloths are sold to tourists as pets. For decades, one man appeared to dominate the trade. A young man offers a baby three-toed sloth for sale to passersby on a highway in Altos de Polonia, in northwestern Colombia. The town is one of several hot spots in the region for the illegal sloth trade. BY NATASHA DALY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUAN ARREDONDO; PUBLISHED JANUARY 11, 2022
Next week, our post will bring you a special announcement about the next steps for this blog. Stay tuned!
Peace and All Good
Margie and Barbara
The Wish Mavens
The photo featured in this post was taken by (and is copyrighted by) Barbara J. Dickinson.