Swimming with Sloths

They might look awkward doing it, but sloths are actually pretty good swimmers. They are often observed swimming with ease across rivers in their native Central and South America. If seen paddling through the water in the wild, they should be left alone by people.

Sloths spend the vast majority of their time in trees, but sometimes they make their way to the ground to move to a new tree. Due to urbanization in their habitats, this means they often need to cross busy paved roads. This poses a major danger to sloths, as they can be hit by a car during their slow crawl across the roadway.

This sloth rescue in Panama is saving sloths from their number one enemy—human beings. The slow-moving creatures often get left in distress as their habitats are destroyed for farming and logging. If they find an adult sloth in a busy area, like an intersection, they can often relocate it to a safe forest.

When they find motherless babies, the sloths must be painstakingly raised from young and are kept at the orphanage until they are ready to be released into the wild. (See more ridiculously cute pictures of baby sloths.)

This is another sloth rescue in Costa Rica where baby sloths are learning one of the most valuable skills they will ever need—climbing. National Geographic Explorer Lucy Cooke visited the Toucan Rescue Ranch to see an innovative method of teaching the sloths of how to climb. They are put on rocking chairs and left to climb around, as the gentle back-and-forth-movement of the chair mimics the motion of a real tree in the forest.

Although sloths are small and cuddly now, their evolutionary history spans millions of years. Thousands of years ago, there were many more species of sloths, and some were even giants at nearly 8,000 pounds. In Cuba, researchers diving in caves have found remains of three different species of extinct sloths that lived around 5,000 years ago. It is possible these sloths and the other giant sloths went extinct due to a combination of climate change and human influence. (Read more about sloth remains in underwater caves.)

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