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Saving the Pygmy Sloth from Extinction

  • Locations: Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama
  • Active dates: 2012 - ongoing


This project aims to improve our understanding of the pygmy sloth population and threats to the species. To ensure the conservation of the species, this project also carries out educational programs and workshops to increase local awareness, enhance support for conservation, establish sustainable resource management, and support local authorities in enforcing legal regulations. Our long term aim is to establish and implement a participatory management plan that engages all stakeholders in the conservation of Escudo and the pygmy sloth.



The Critically Endangered pygmy sloth is only found on Escudo de Veraguas, a tiny island off the east coast of mainland Panama. The island is the only land mass in the 41,596 ha Escudo de Veraguas-Dego Protected Sanctuary and is a part of the natural heritage of the local Ngobe-Bugle people.
Although Escudo is protected, its natural resources are utilized by local communities and threatened by overexploitation of fisheries, increasing tourism pressure, extraction of timber and increasing amounts of litter. Historically there has been little conservation attention or support for the pygmy sloth and the island habitat it depends on.


The field team, led by EDGE Affiliate Dr. Diorene Smith, visits Escudo twice a year to monitor the pygmy sloth population. Transects are walked through the mangroves and forest, where the team record the number of sloths and other important data on the sloths activity and habitat use. We have also put radio collars and GPS backpacks on the sloths to help us find out how large an area each individual needs and which parts of the island they use in different seasons. Diorene works with local communities to promote sustainable resource use and find solutions to mitigate the pressures on the island, and conducts educational activities with several local schools.

The majority of the field team are from the local communities and the project maintains very close links with the villages on the coast of Panama nearest to Escudo. Collaborations with other NGOs and community organisations have resulted in 5 successful workshops within these communities; these workshops are forums to explore and discuss the sustainable use of Escudo’s resources while maintaining local livelihoods. In addition, environmental education activity days have now been carried out in 7 of the local communities. The days include an innovative puppet theater and the distribution of activity books and posters. The first ever local school group with students and teachers visited the island with the field team in 2016.



Twice-yearly population monitoring surveys in the mangroves have been carried out since 2014. We have obtained the first officially confirmed records and photographs of the sloth in the forest. Radio collars have been deployed on 5 individuals and GPS loggers have been tested successfully in preparation for scaling up deployment to monitor seasonal habitat use.

Over 250 people have attended a sustainability workshop. Participants showed a keen interest in training and future involvement as community monitors for important animal and plant species. Over a thousand children have been included in the environmental education activities.

Diorene Smith successfully completed her EDGE fellowship in 2015. In 2016, Diorene was awarded the Disney Conservation Hero Award for her impressive dedication and hard work towards the conservation of this species. Diorene has joined the IUCN Xenarthan Specialist Group and has helped to establish a collaborative ‘Committee for the Protection of the Pygmy Sloth’ overseeing conservation and research activities.

The longevity of the project has enable our team to develop and maintain essential positive relationships with the local Ngabe Bugle communities and authorities as well as the Ño Kribo Regional and National Environmental Authorities (ANAM). Rangers from the environment ministry now also attend all field trips, improving the ability to enforce regulation of tourism and pollution.

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Watch our video about the project:


Read our 2017 Project Report: Conserving the pygmy sloth_ProjectSummary 2017

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