The smallest of the three-toed sloths, the pygmy three-toed sloth is characterised by pale grey-brown fur that is often blotchy and a tan-coloured face with a distinctive dark band around the eyes. Long, shaggy hair hangs over the face, giving a hooded appearance. Male adults have a bright orange patch on their back through which a black band runs vertically. Sloths have an unusual means of camouflage to avoid predation; their outer fur is often coated in algae, giving the hair a greenish colour that helps conceal them in their forest habitat. Three-toed sloths (Bradypus) can be distinguished from their distant relatives, the two-toed sloths (Choloepus), by the three digits on their forelimbs, blunter muzzle, and simpler, chisel-shaped teeth.
Sloth fore-arms are much longer than their thighs, so when on the ground they crawl on their elbows rather than their hands and their thighs are spaced so widely that they cannot bring their knees together. Although this makes it difficult for the pygmy three-toed sloth to move along on the ground their hands and feet have long, curved claws that let them hang upside down in trees all day long with ease. Their specialised neck allows them to turn their head approximately 270o horizontally and observe all around without having to move the rest of their body. A further adaptation to living upside down is that sloth hair grows in the opposite direction of the hair of most animals, which makes it easier for water to run off away from the skin when the animal is upside down.
Isla Escudo de Veraguas has been designated as a protected area and is located within the Ngobe-Bugle comarca which means the local indigenous people have strong administrative power.
A group of scientists from ZSL went out to Escudo to conduct an extensive population survey of the pygmy sloths in March 2012. In total they encountered 72 sloths and observed some mangrove cutting, estimating that there may be fewer than 100 individuals within mangrove habitats, but that more sloths may be present in dense forest. At present a campaign is being run to raise funds to develop a participatory conservation strategy for the pygmy sloth that involves all stakeholders.
This project supports in-country EDGE Fellows to help conserve relevant EDGE species
To significantly increase the protection and awareness of Isla Escudo de Veraguas as a unique habitat using pygmy three-toed sloths as a flagship species through long-term collaborations with Panamanian authorities and local communities.
Law enforcement within the reserve is inadequate and needs to be strengthened to protect this species. Conservation could also be improved through local awareness programmes, specifically those promoting sloths as conservation flagship species. Education of local communities is vital to stopping poaching problems as well as reducing deforestation and increasing law enforcement within the reserve.
Marine and freshwater programme coordinator at ZSL with a passion for mangroves and corals
I am veterinarian and I am working with the pygmy three-toed sloth on Escudo de Veraguas Island in Panama.
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