A reply to: "The dark side of the sloth sanctuary"
Trip Start Jul 12, 2012
68Trip End Sep 21, 2012
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Where I stayed
I'm currently in Italy on an excavation but still the sloth sanctuary and my sloths are never really far from my mind. I know most of you, especially my parents, don't seem to understand the bond I have with this place and it's animals and why I love the place so much. This I find totally understandable. You can never really understand someones feeling until you have personally experienced it and even then you might not have the same outcome.
I have been keeping up with Daniella's blog who was one of the volunteers whilst I was there. It's been nice to still see what's been going on whilst I have been away and to see the sloths in pictures. Kind of like a sloth quick fix. Daniella's last and latest blog on the sloth sanctuary was utterly surprising to me (http://www.thewondersofwandering.com/the-dark-side-of-the-sloth-sanctuary/) and I was perplexed/enraged at her opinions in it
In her blog entitled 'The dark side of the Sloth Sanctuary', she commented on what she didn't like about the sanctuary. This was basically a scathing review of what the sloths ate, their health, their boredom levels, their lack of contact with humans and how the sanctuary was run and on the family who lives there. Funnily enough she posted this blog after she had left the sanctuary, which she said was because she "knew that there were a lot of people who enjoyed reading about (her) adventure and were having a ball falling in love with these creatures" (King, D. 2012) and therefore didn't want to ruin it for them. Why post it at all then? Personally I believe she cowardly waited until she had left to post it as she knew that Judy, the founder, had been reading her blog as Daniella had personally given her the link to it.
Firstly, before I get in to it, I would like to say that am in no way an expert on the sanctuary. Nor am I affiliated with them in any way. They are more than capable of fighting their own battles and this I'm sure isn't the first bad thing that has been said about them on the Internet. I however felt that as this review was set whilst I was there that I wanted to say something too
I was only volunteering at the sanctuary for a month, but like Daniella I now feel it is necessary to voice my observations and experiences at the sanctuary and what I learnt about it whilst I was volunteering. I especially wanted to write a response to her 'review' as I believe it is a completely unfair account of the sanctuary and I think it is unfortunate that people will see what she has said as the truth. The point of this entry is not to be argumentative but to debunk the 'facts' from her account and to at least give people two sides to the story rather then one. That way you can make up your own minds. I honestly don't know how Daniella came to form these opinions. I know she absolutely adored the sloths and seemed to be having a great time at the sanctuary, as evident from her other blog posts. However the information she has recently posted is firstly extremely misinformed and secondly she doesn't seem to have actually put a lot of thought into what she is actually claiming as every single thing can be refuted.
Accompanying this blog were general sloth photos with ridiculous titles including a photo of a Bradypyus sleeping with the title, "sloth life is not so fun when your (sic) locked up" and one of Shiloh and Poko, who have just been moved into the big boy enclosures from the nursery where they were handled everyday, entitled, "Poko and Shiloh dying of boredom wanting to be let out". It is hardly surprising to find a sloth sleeping nor is it shocking to find two juvenile sloths wanting to be taken out like they were before
Now there are of course some things I would love to change about the sanctuary, no place is perfect. I wish the enclosures could be a bit bigger, I wish they were able to complete some projects like the sprinkler system so that there would perhaps be less sloth skin problems and I wish they could have had a more natural diet (the three fingered do but the two fingered do not). Most of the things I just listed are due to a money problem and a lack of it. Do I wish they could release all of the sloths? Yes. Do I wish they had less health problems? Yes. Do I realise that there isn't actually a lot they can do about this, unfortunately. But that is life, and life often doesn't work out how we want it to. Like I said no place is perfect and neither is life.
According to Daniella she felt that she was funding the family who runs the sanctuary rather than the sloths with her volunteering money. This to me was a pretty shocking statement especially with the example she uses. This example was the fact that David, one of the grandsons of Judy the owner, has a big 4 wheel truck that she didn't believe he could have afforded it on a $2 Costa Rican wage. In fact the bank actually owns his truck and he makes monthly payments for it. So no he can't afford it on this wage nor is he using the money from the sanctuary to buy such luxuries. This truck is not only for personal use but is used to help the sanctuary with day to day tasks. I also happen to know that Jeff, another grandson, is on a $2 wage and is currently saving for a truck but at present cannot afford one
Before this blog came out I tried to work out how much the sanctuary would cost to run. According to an outdated edition of the Costa Rican paper,'The Tico Times' (Tico Times. 2010) it costs $10,000 a month to run and $400 a year per sloth (Costa Rican Times. 2012). I have been informed that in total the sanctuary actually costs $26,000 a month to stay open. This total covers everything and includes insurance, the staff wages and bonuses, surgeries and so on (1. I have added a breakdown of this in my notes section at the bottom). During her money section Daniella says that there were at least 15 volunteers during her stay who were all contributing $65 a day to the sanctuary. I'm sorry but this is a complete lie. During her 3 weeks there were no more than 9 people there including me (and I was for most of my stay paying a great deal less then I should have been) and not including Jorge and Dusty who weren't paying any money to the sanctuary at all nor Becca who is actually doing her PhD at the sanctuary. So instead of $15,000 it was actually $6500, and I've included Erin, a volunteer who didn't pay for her four days stay (2. if you are really interested I've added the sum and volunteers to the notes section). Quite a bit different from the truth isn't? If you're going to write a 'review' and spread this information to people at least make sure your facts are correct
Some of the problems Daniella wrote about were to do with money. One example of this is how they need to raise the roof in one of the sections as it is too hot and by raising the roof they can get more ventilation in there. This is completely true and needs to be done but as far as I am aware, unlike what Daniella has suggested, it is on the 'To Do' list which I am sure is unfortunately rather large. However at the moment they are finishing another building project and therefore cannot afford, nor do they have the man power (which is the general staff) to do another project. There is then nothing they can really do about it at present which obviously is not ideal but what can you do when you don't have enough money to do everything you want to? This is apparently not good enough for the critics as they supposedly must believe that the sanctuary has millions of dollars and can easily do these projects at a whim. Perhaps they are also under the impression that sloths can poo pure gold and that the trees at the sanctuary don't actually grow food for the sloths but in fact grow 10,000 colones notes and $100 bills? This current building project is actually new enclosures for incoming sloths. They ideally want to move sloths out of the old enclosures and into the new ones but they have such an influx of new animals that they often can't do that. So it is not that they want to "entrap even more sloths... (or want) more mouths to feed" (King, D. 2012), but they are hardly going to turn away an injured sloth that needs medical attention or a baby sloth that has come into the sanctuary for various reasons and leave it to die unattended
As I mentioned, the two fingered sloths do not get their natural diet. They often have almond leaves, which are in their natural diet, on a daily basis, sometimes they don't. For the most part they are given a diet of vegetables, barros leaves, which are a natural leaf substitute, and currently they were testing dog food on the sloths. Now I know dog food probably sounds a little bit odd but it is also full of lots of yummy vitamins and minerals, especially the puppy food they were being given. Now of course I would love them to only eat what they usually do in the wild but when you're feeding about 120 two fingered sloths a day who aren't going to be released (so therefore will not be going back to their natural diet and most of them were raised at the sanctuary) this often isn't plausible. In fact 4 months ago before Jorge, a long term volunteer, got to the sanctuary the almond trees on site where dying and not producing hardly any leaves for the sloths to eat. He bought them back to life and now they are producing leaves on rotation so that they should never run out if the trees are looked after properly. The sloths will therefore have a more of these leaves in their diet everyday.Of course this doesn't seem to be an important enough fact to be mentioned in the blog, that they do actually get some leaves that are natural to them. Judy also wishes that they don't have more natural food everyday but the diet they do give the sloths is actually a combination of diets that has been used in zoo's for the last 50 years (http://www.buffalozoo.org/Two_Toed_Sloth.pdf)
According to the blog the sanctuary do not euthanise sloths who have "the will to live" (King, D. 2012) and could live a fairly normal life. This I believe would be the response of any animal owner. An example she used was one of my own sloths from my section, Ubu. Ubu is paralysed from the waist down but is perfectly able at getting around using his arms. I have seen this with my own eyes, he's kind of like a sloth Tarzan. He has recently been moved back into the nursery for his health as he kept getting pressure sores on his back from dragging himself across his platform and due to his paralysis he has no bladder control and just goes whenever. Unfortunately as he and his two enclosure friends, Yodo and Sherlock, love to be wrapped up in each other, they often are just sat in his waste. He was therefore moved for his own health and that of Sherlock and Yodo. Pretty rational you would say. Not so, according to Daniella's judgement he is now wasting away in a cage and therefore probably should have been put down due to his disabilities. Now Ubu and I bonded quite a lot during my stay and I can say that without a doubt it would have been a genuine crime to euthanise him. He, despite his paralysis, is a happy and cheeky little sloth and is actually getting far more attention now then he would have in his big boy enclosure as he gets taken out on a nearly daily basis by volunteers
One photo pointed out that some of the sloths have worms. This is correct about 10-15 of the sloths have worms. This parasite spreads very, very easily. I should know, I had them as a child due to the fact that my brother used to play with stones in our garden that an infected cat had urinated on. This is obviously not good and even worse it can't be treated in the sloths because the medicine that we can so easily give to our pets, KILLS sloths. That's right sloths, although fairly indestructible can be killed by medicine that we can give to any old normal animal. Most of the ongoing medical problems the sloths have; mange, worms etc are because the medicine that can be used on other animals doesn't work on sloths or harms or kills them. This is not just a captive sloth problem, wild sloths who come in to the sanctuary sometimes have terrible mange but the solution is using shampoo's and medicine that are toxic to them. Perhaps we should just euthanise them when this problem occurs rather than trying to look after them as best as one can?
Another main issue was that most of the sloths do not get daily attention, especially the adults. This is again completely true. But as far as I am aware the sloth sanctuary is not a petting zoo. Most sloths at the sanctuary also have companions with them in their enclosures to keep them company
Releasing the sloths
So now I move on to the very important subject of releasing sloths. This is the ideal and while was at the sanctuary we released two wild sloths that we had treated back into the wild. I can personally vouch for this as I went along when we released the first (see photos). In fact the sanctuary, since 2000 have released 96 sloths that have come to them to be treated. These wild sloths did not go into the sloth enclosures and were kept to "simply rot in their entrapment" (King, D. 2012), but released back into their natural habitat. Again the fact that sloths were released whilst she was volunteering there does not seem to warrant a mention at all.
As I have said in previous blogs and spoken to a few of you, when a baby sloth comes into the sanctuary it cannot be released into the wild again. This is pretty devastating, I totally agree with Daniella. BUT, a baby sloth lives with its mother for up to a year in the wild. She teaches her baby what leaves to eat and she teaches him/her to rotate leaves so that the toxicity of the leaves doesn't build up in their system and kill them. Oddly this is not something that the sanctuary can teach the babies and often they are far too young (under a year) when they come into the sanctuary to be re-released and have become used to human contact. The other sloths that are still at the sloth sanctuary are the ones that could not take care of themselves in the wild, they are; blind, paralysed, have broken limbs, cannot climb properly and many, many other things.
Evidence Daniella uses for the fact the sanctuary is apparently lying about their goal to release the sloths back in to the wild is Duchess. Duchess is a two fingered sloth who was severely burnt by power lines. According to Daniella's blog she is perfectly ready to be released back into the wild. But hold on, she actually can't use one of arms at all due to it being so broken. This break is so bad that they might not even be able to fix it with surgery and may have to remove it. If this is the case she will never be able to be released into the wild. At the moment they are giving her x-rays three times a week and hoping that the arm will mend naturally. If not surgery is definitely an option on the table but it may be too broken to mend. She is therefore, in no way, ready to be released back into the wild now.
Apparently most of the sloths there "are in perfectly good condition to be released" (King, D. 2012), yes actually they are in good condition thanks to the sanctuary. As I have pointed out though most have ailments that means they wouldn't survive in the wild or have been raised from babies and therefore would not be able to take care of themselves. Alarmingly at the end of her blog Daniella suggests that although 'some' of the sloths might die if they were released into the wild that it is a risk worth taking. I was literally shocked at this suggestion. Not only would MOST not some of the sloths die if they were sent off into the wild but I can imagine that she would be more than devastated if she sent some of her pet favourites into the wild and they died. Or maybe she would keep those ones behind for "endless snuggles" (King, D. 2012). Remember these are sloths who are blind (Little Angel), only have one arm (Darla), can't climb properly (Faith and Pj), are disabled (Ubu & Bruno) and these are just a mere few examples. The majority though have been raised as infants and therefore would not survive either. Can you imagine shoving them back into the wild to fend for themselves? It would be more than cruel.
I clearly had a completely different experience of the sanctuary to Daniella's. This is perfectly fair, everyone experiences are different but I cannot see how someone could come to this place and not fall in love with it, the sloths and the people who work so hard there doing the best they can. Isn't that all we can really do? To me the sanctuary was honestly magical. I have never felt more at home so quickly as I have there. I loved the work, I loved the animals more than I thought I ever could and I loved the way the sanctuary worked. I am still in contact with most of the volunteers during my time there and they all loved it too. It really is a minority that feels how Daniella does. But you really can never please everyone.
I spoke quite often to Marcelo the vet there and one time he said to me that he was offered a much better paying position as a vet in San Jose but he didn't take it because he loved it at the sanctuary. He said that he loved how different the work was everyday and learning about an animal that people don't really know a lot about, especially in terms of veterinary sciences. But most of all he loved how it felt like he was living with one big family who all worked together and that not only was he a vet but he was a builder, gardener etc. I completely agreed with him, apart from the core family the rest of the staff are basically extended family and they all pull together to make the sanctuary work as best as they can. Like I said no place is perfect and the sloth sanctuary is no exception but we can only do what we can with the means and materials that we have. Frankly the staff and the family who run it are doing an amazing job and if I were a sloth who wouldn't survive in the wild if released I can't think of a better place to be.
What would you choose?
If you would like to help Rebecca Cliffe release the sloths at The Sloth Sanctuary then please go to her research funding page and help out. She needs money for the expensive equipment needed to study the sloths so they can start safely releasing them: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-our-sloths
Update: Daniella has argued against all of this with more 'facts', I feel responding would be futile and I respect the sanctuary's wishes that it would be pointless to continuing arguing the same points. You've read the truth here and are therefore able to form your own opinions whatever they may be, love Sarah
n.b. I would like to add that this post has edited this from my original one on the 2/10/11 as I have done more research on the subject and wanted add more information to this piece. I have also added photos as I have finally been able to get to a computer! I have also put it into sections to make it easier!
King, D. 2012. "The dark side of the sloth sanctuary" (http://www.thewondersofwandering.com/the-dark-side-of-the-sloth-sanctuary/)
Costa Rican Times. 2012. "Costa Rica's amazing sloths. (http://www.costaricantimes.com/costa-ricas-amazing-sloths/5735)
Tico Times. 2010. "Change pace at the Sloth Sanctuary C.R." (http://www.ticotimes.net/Weekend/Travel/Change-Pace-at-the-Sloth-Sanctuary-of-C.R._Friday-October-15-2010)
Buffalo Zoo. 2012. (http://www.buffalozoo.org/Two_Toed_Sloth.pdf)
1. The sanctuary has nearly 140 sloths that's around $5000 a month to look after the sloths. They also have a permanent staff of 13, two of whom are vets and I would guess that they earn a lot more than the regular staff. I would also guess that they all earn at least $2 an hour (so minimum wage) for 8 hours of work a day. So that is again nearly $6000 a month, at a minimum. To fund the sanctuary they use money that they charge the volunteers for them working there, tours, adoptions and donations. Now whilst I was at the sanctuary for a month there were at least 10 volunteers (not including myself), who were paying about $65 a day which works out to about $10,000 a month.
2. Volunteers, the amount of time they stayed and how much they paid during Daniella's stay:
Sarah - 10 days at $25= $250
Daniella - 21 days at $65= $1365
Brittany - 17 days at $65= $1105
Gavin and Kym - 14 days each at $65= $1820
Erin - 4 days at $80= $320 (not paid)
Juliet & Ameila - 5 days at $80= $800
Christiane - 10 days at $80= $800