Sloth in the wild, Colombia

Sloth facts

Common name: Sloth. Scientific name: Folivora. Distribution: central and south America

There are two types of sloth, two-toed and three-toed. However, this can get confusing as both types have three claws, or ‘toes’, on their hind limbs.

Today’s quiet and docile sloth is about the size of a medium dog. They haven’t always been this size though! They are descendants of the Megatherium, a giant ancient extinct sloth that could grow to the size of a modern-day Asian elephant.

For people, hanging upside down for too long can become more than a bit uncomfortable. So how do sloths do it for 90% of their life? With their organs attached to their ribcage, it greatly reduces pressure on their lungs while hanging out.

The majority of a sloth’s diet is pretty green, consisting of mainly buds, leaves and tender shoots. They have a multi-compartment stomach, allowing them to effectively digest all the tough cellulose they eat. This is by no means a fast process, taking 30 days to digest just one leaf! They need a great deal of rest due to their incredibly slow metabolism.

Their slow nature is an energy conservation tool. They move slower than any other mammal on the planet. In one day, they will only move 38 metres on average. Sloths are even slower when on the ground, cruising at a leisurely 30cm per minute.


Wild three-toed mother and infant sloth in the Sobrenia National Park, Panama. Photo by: WDabrowka, KVang


Image credit: World Animal Protection / Nando Machado

What threats are sloths facing?

Sloths are losing their habitat fast. Day by day more of the tropical rain forests they call home are lost due to illegal logging for industrial farming and deforestation. This loss of habitat leaves them on the forest floor where they are defenceless against predators. Humans are included on this danger list. When found by illegal loggers they are often stolen from their homes and sold to illegal pet trades or tourist entertainment trades.

When sold to a tourist trade, sloths become a prop for people’s tropical adventure selfies. The wildlife selfie business is dangerous because sloths are just as delicate as the ecosystem they live in. Usually, they spend 56% of their day sleeping. When forced into the selfie trade, they are passed from person to person and only able to sleep or rest for 2% of the time.

The amount of handling these stolen sloths receive is anxiety and fear inducing. The stress they endure in these environments is both physical and psychological. They are handled incorrectly, unable to sleep, unable to regulate temperature and constantly hyperaware of their surroundings. It’s estimated that sloths taken from the wild and forced to work in these unnatural conditions may not survive longer than 6 months.

The facial structure of a sloth gives the appearance that it is constantly smiling – even if it is experiencing pain, stress, or anxiety. When sloths are used as a photo prop for wildlife selfies, tourists may accidentally confuse this feature for happiness or contentment.


How is World Animal Protection helping?

In 2017, 250,000 people signed our Wildlife Selfie Code, a campaign encouraging people not to be part of the ugly picture that is wildlife selfies. This campaign pushed Instagram to educate its users on the suffering these images cause, and it now has its own content advisory page dedicated to informing users about on the animal welfare issues that surround wildlife selfies.

In 2019 World Animal Protection joined forces with the Costa Rican Government’s Ministry of Energy and Environment to deliver a world first. The first ever government #StopAnimalSelfies campaign.

This isn’t just a hashtag though, it’s an education campaign that includes:

  • Leaflets that will be handed out on arrival at airports informing tourists on the wildlife selfie code.
  • Pop up photo booths with stuffed animals that aim to educate tourists that the real animals shouldn’t be used as props in an interactive way.
  • Billboards against wildlife selfies that will be displayed at popular destinations.

This education campaign has the potential to reach 1.7 million people. We want it to not only help protect wild animals in Costa Rica but all over the world. The goal is to give tourists a lesson that they can carry into their future travels as well.

Read our report: A close up on cruelty 


How can you help?

Farmed and wild animals around the world are exploited every day. Sloths are unfortunately part of this ugly cycle. Your donation big or small, allows us to continue fighting to keep sloths and other animals out of illegal exotic animal trades and harmful tourism activities. Click below to donate today.

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Help filter suffering out of wildlife selfies

Wild animals are exploited and abused for visitor selfies fuelled by Instagram and other social media. You can commit to help filter cruelty out of selfies.

Wildlife selfies

When you’re on holiday, it may be tempting to take a quick selfie with an animal. But that little moment could cost them a lifetime of suffering.

Sloth selfies in the Amazon

Close up on cruelty

Read our 'A close up on Cruelty' report and learn about the harmful impact of wildlife selfies in the Amazon.

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