Wednesday, 29 December 2010

December and Christmas in Costa Rica!

So December started with A LOT of rain - not unusual for this time of year apparently! It rained so much that the water in the lagoon almost reached the B&B so everything was moved upstairs overnight to try to avoid any damage! The volunteer house flooded with water thigh deep which meant we had to rescue Maxi (the dog) and literally carry her out of there! Here are a couple of pictures I managed to take, including Jenny at the volunteer house:

Unfortunately neither of the dogs who used to live at the volunteer house are there any more. Titan hurt his back which resulted in his back legs being paralysed. After taking him to see a specialist in San Jose, it was discovered that he had been born without his back ribs as well as having a bony growth on his spine. He is still in San Jose having acupuncture and hydrotherapy to try and get some movement back but I'm not sure what's happening now. Since then, Maxi has been playing up, and after she decided that the newly planted palm trees were a good chew toy, it was decided that she needed to be re-homed to a family who could give her the attention she needs as a puppy! So the volly house is suddenly very quiet!

The new project is all set up and ready to go - I am just waiting on the equipment that still hasn't managed to get here yet. I need the carmine red dye as well as a spare daily diary device as a back up for the 3 I currently have. It was planned to have them sent out with a volunteer coming from the UK, but annoyingly it snowed in England and pretty much the whole country ground to a halt, brilliant. Anyway they are due to now arrive next week so hopefully I can finally begin my work - exciting stuff :-)

Christmas was lovely and sunny here in Costa Rica, but VERY different from back home - I missed the cliffe family a lot! It turns out Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas crackers are pretty much unheard of outside of England. But work carried on as normal here - the Sloths still needed looking after and people still wanted tours! Surprisingly we had, and still have, a lot of volunteers here! I spent Christmas afternoon on the beach with some friends and had a few drinks in the evening.

Just before Christmas, we had a surprise birth here at the sanctuary! It's almost impossible to tell when a Sloth is pregnant, so it really was a surprise when one of the volunteers found a tiny new born baby in with Busby and Goldie in the morning. We try not to let the Sloths here mate because we can never release the baby so unfortunately it is another mouth that needs feeding! Sadly, the mother didn't bite off the umbilical cord properly so the baby needed stitches, after which, Goldie rejected him. So he is now being hand raised by Judy. We named him Jacque Noel after the volunteer who found him. Not all is well with this tiny baby though - he has developed a worrying habit of stopping breathing after every feed which means Judy has to literally resuscitate him every time. Fingers crossed he is ok!

About a week ago, a man brought us an adult 3 fingered sloth as well as a tiny 2 fingered baby. Sadly, the baby had been left on the ground for too long and died during the day. It was thought that the adult had been electrocuted, but after being examined she had no burns or obvious injuries. We tried to release her but she suddenly deteriorated and so we aren't sure what the problem is. We are keeping her under close observation though so hopefully she will be ok. Just to add to the baby boom, 2 days ago we had a small Choloepus baby brought to us whose mother had been attacked and killed by a dog. She seems to be doing ok though and so has joined the other babies in the incubators.

Finally, we had a small panic with Mateo eating his carrots a bit too fast. We thought he had fallen asleep while eating, but he had actually choked on his food! He had become quite unresponsive and our vet had to force his finger down his throat to dislodge the carrot! Within 10 mins he was right as rain, but now gets hand fed his carrots one by one to stop him getting too excited again!

Oh... just as I was typing that last sentance we had a little earthquake! Not very exciting for anyone else here except me :-)

Lots of love x

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Andrew Gray comes to visit!

Like I mentioned in my last post, Andrew Gray (the supervisor for my project from Manchester) has come out here to help decide what direction to take the project in. He arrived here on Thursday and already, we have come up with a really exciting plan for the study! I will summarise it briefly here...

So for those who don't know a massive amount about Sloths, they have a number of features that make them completely unique from other mammals. Firstly, they have a VERY low metabolic rate - it is thought that one meal takes up to a month to digest!! As well as this, they can't thermoregulate like other mammals; they act almost like reptiles and amphibians moving in and out of the sunlight to control their body temperature. In captivity they can't do this because they don't have any access to the sunshine - their enclosures are basically a uniform temperature.

So the idea we have come up with will basically involve me using 3 female Bradypus sloths, kept alone in standardised enclosures for 6 months. I will me carefully controlling everything myself including exactly what and how much they eat. I will be taking both the body temp's and the ambient temp every 4 hours for the full 6 months and will be able to compare these against each other. Along side this, the sloths will each be wearing a daily diary for the full time, recording exactly how long they spend active (I will then be able to compare this back to the temp...!)
The final piece in the puzzle will involve me monitoring the metabolic rate of each sloth using carmine red - so feeding them the die with one meal and recording the time until they give me some red poo - potentially up to a month! I will also be measuring humidity and rainfall levels throughout ... Sooo from all this I will be able to see how ambient temp, body temp, activity levels, humidity and rainfall affect the metabolic rate!

I hope for my final month here I will be able to head up to the new sanctuary in Monteverde where it is much cooler and compare how the sloths up there (that aren't naturally found there) are coping with the ones here! - exciting stuff!

Anyway I will collect some pics etc of the new enclosures and how the sloths are settling into them over the next few days and pop them up on here so you can see!


Monday, 22 November 2010

November happenings

I really have been getting a bit lazy with writing the blog - I will try and update it more often in the future! (By the time I come around to writing it, I forget Add Videowhat has been happening..)

Ok so firstly, MORE babies !! We literally have babies coming out of our ears at the moment, there aren't normally this many! Unfortunately the first one we received last week (named jessie) died of pneumonia. Then the day after, we received the youngest one yet - possibly hours old - it still had the umbilical cord attached! He was found early in the morning after a stormy night by one of the workers. We think that the mother gave birth, then the branch she was hanging from broke off and her and baby fell to the ground - but the baby was found wedged under the branch so the mother probably couldn't pick it up. We named this one Jessie boy, but unfortunately he too died a couple of nights ago. We think it was probably because he had an infection around the remaining umbilical cord and he was just too young to fight it :-(

And more sad news, a few of the younger ones have developed what can only be described as a 'sniffle'. They didn't seem to be doing too badly but sadly, Apollo died suddenly 2 nights ago and Ella isn't doing so well at the moment. However she is still eating fine so fingers crossed she can shake it off !! Apart from this though, everyone else is doing fine :-) The weather has been cold (for a sloth) and VERY rainy this week so they aren't enjoying that so much.

Ubu is a 6 month old Choloepus baby with paralysed back legs who I have been working with daily to try to get them working again! He's quite a character and has been making incredible improvements over the last week - moving his legs all by himself! I have even had him learning to climb on the 'jungle jim' - very sweet! I will get some pictures soon (when it stops raining.)

Anyway enough about the babies, we have had some naughty escapees! The new enclosures in the visitor centre were designed to be escape proof - obviously not well enough for determined sloths. The surprising thing is, the first escapee was the laziest, sleepiest sloth of all, Millie! We found her in the morning clinging to the outstide of the building fast asleep. She managed to do this every night until we figured out her route and ruined it for her. Then a week later one of the 2 Bradypus babies that are in there at the moment discovered he could climb over the wall and get to the people on the other side for cuddles! I first found him when I was on one of my night shifts - went to record what they were doing and found him sitting outside the enclosure happily munching on some leaves. He then escaped every hour for the whole night so he has now been relegated back with the others! This is Millie:

Judy and Luis finally arrived back from Monteverde today so they have lots of catching up to do on everything that has been going on! They weren't due back for another few weeks but the emergency with the babies has called for Judy's magic sloth whispering! I think buttercup is very glad to have her back (as we all are!)

I have been having a bit of a rethink about my project this week. After realising that I wont be able to manipulate the diet, I also realised that it is going to be much harder than I originally thought to change the structure of the enclosures and vary feeding times etc. Also, things like light levels are difficult to change as they are semi - indoors. However, I am not stuck for ideas of what to study; I am almost spoilt for choice! Luckily my supervisor is coming out here this week to help me decide exactly what to focus on and how to get around the problems. I will let you know what we decide on doing - its exciting stuff!

I saw my first ever wild Choloepus today in Cahuita - chilling in an Almond tree! On the sanctuary grounds there are 3 Choloepus that have been rehabiliated and released but have never really left, and they too live in Almond trees. Hopefully I will be able to tag these with the devices and use it as a nice intermediate comparison between wild and captive behaviours (They have access to all the things wild ones do and captive ones don't - direct sunlight, rain etc - but also only feed of one type of leaf, just like the captive sloths currently being rehabiliated!) So it will be interesting to compare their activity patterns and see how they differ - Do they sleep more or less than captive / wild sloths? Do they sleep / feed at similar times? Do they scratch more or less than in captivity? etc etc, you get the idea!
So right now I am going through the data from the daily diaries I have had on the captive Bradypus sloths, and working out the proportions of time spent doing each behaviour - VERY time consuming!! I have included a picture of what some of the data looks like!

Anyway thats just a brief update of whats has been happening recently. I'm sure I have missed things out but I will write as things happen in future!


Monday, 1 November 2010

babies and sloth wee

Ok so here are some pictures of the new babies as promised. It turns out we have actually had 5 new ones this week, not 3 as I said earlier. We had 2 more Bradypus brought in, both from the same man. Sadly it looks like they have been tied up by the wrist for a while though because they have clear markings there and don't enjoy anyone touching the arms - it's very sad. They are doing well though, and are very cute !!

I got to try out the fancy new microscope yesterday... we found some strange white paste-ish stuff in the urine of some of the sloths so I had a look to see if I could shed any light on it. It looked a bit like a close up view of white goo. We have no real idea what it could be, possibly calcium deposits (Rabbits get something similar), but who knows. They seem fine and well in themselves so time will tell. I have added a delicious picture of the poo/wee sample and microscope too.

Also while I remember, I was watching Attenborough's life of mammals a couple of days ago and the part about the Sloth's came on ... It definitely shows actual David Attenborough himself sitting here at Aviarios eating his breakfast - I got very excited that he was actually here !! And I never even knew ..! xx

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Raining babies!

I have uploaded some pictures of the white goo-ing I mentioned earlier. I saw it happen to a whole bunch of Sloths all neighbouring each other - A couple of hours after nearby ones had their claws cut (stress related?)... Still working on this one!

So a few days ago I tried putting the harness and device on a Choloepus - Grace - for the first time... it didn't go so well! They are a lot feistier than the Bradypus so persuading her to put her arms through the right holes didn't exactly go to plan. We ended up having to sedate her to get it on properly which wasn't ideal. Anyway since then I decided to put my womanly sewing skills to good use and modify the harnesses to make it easier - basically chopping them up and sewing on extra clips. They don't look particularly professional, but they work like a dream! I have them on a couple of two fingered sloths at the moment with no sedation necessary - just a tasty bean for distraction.

I have finally started drafting out which Sloths I am going to be using as my sample (I will be changing their conditions to see how it affects their behaviour patterns). I have picked out 16 Choloepus that seem appropriate (covering a range of conditions - number in cage / age / sex / size of cage / location etc.) I have attached a diagram of the cages and the ones I plan to use :-)

I only have a sample of 4 Bradypus that I can use the devices on and they all share the same enclosure - There used to be more but Judy and Luis are opening a new sanctuary up at Monteverde (cloud forest) so 6 Bradypus have been moved up there leaving only 8 here.... 3 of which are too small and then Sid-Wiggy who enjoys cuddles faaaar to much to be used in my study!

One of the conditions I was planning on changing was the type of food they are given - currently the Choloepus are fed beans & berros in the morning and carrots, potatoes & dog food in the afternoon (this combo gives them all the nutrients they need). My plan was to give them the leaves they eat naturally in the wild but this is looking a little difficult..! In the wild they rotate the type of tree they feed from regularly to avoid the build up of toxins - So it seems I would need to work out what toxins are present in each leaf type and rotate them at the rate they do in the wild - which no one really knows for sure. And it's a bit hard to do an observation of them in the wild considering they are nocturnal and very high up....! Adding to this problem it turns out I would need to go out everyday to find the right trees, climb them and pick the leaves fresh. I'm not so sure how well that would end ...! But I will see what I can do, more problem solving!!

Excitingly (in a geeky science sort of way) I have finally got hold of equipment that will let me measure and record the weather - which is fairly useful considering this has a MASSIVE effect on their behaviour. I can now monitor the temperature, light level, humidity, and wind speed (woop). I have also be lent the use of a very impressive little digital microscope that will let us look up close at the skin of those Sloths with skin problems and see what is going on - also very exciting!

In the last couple of days we have had 3 new babies brought to the sanctuary which is sad (but very cute). The first was a very young Bradypus confiscated from some children trying to sell it. It didn't look so good when it first arrived but seems to be doing ok now, fingers crossed. It has been named Tiny Myte because it is so small yet so strong! The second arrived yesterday and is the youngest I have seen yet - not so sure of the story behind it but it is VERY small and has come complete with the new born baby wrinkles - this one is called Shilo. Just as I am writing this another has been brought in, apparently it's a 1 month old Choloepus and unfortunately it's pupils are dilated which is never a good sign. Hopefully with some time and TLC it will get better... ! I will get some pictures and upload them soon.

So I finally had my first day off since I have been here :-) I went down to the beach in Cahuita and had an amazing day relaxing in the sea and watching the monkeys on the beach. I'm off to the islands of Bocas del Toro in Panama on Wednesday for 3 days on the old visa run... it looks AMAZING !!! Very excited for that one.
Anyway I hope all is well back home and it's not too cold .... :) xxx

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sorry about the lack of updates.. things have been pretty busy the last couple of weeks. To start off with some sad news, Balou, one of the guard dogs here at Aviarios was eaten by a crocodile last week during the night. He went down to drink from the lagoon and the croc was waiting for him - but plans are now in place for it to be relocated so hopefully it wont cause any more problems!

While talking of sad news, we've had 2 Sloth's die over the last 2 nights and both were completely unexpected. Firstly, one of the adult Choloepus - Topo Gigio - was found dead in his cage yesterday after having been off his food for a while. Then this morning, Dominique, one of the Bradypus babies was also found dead :( She was brought to the sanctuary after being found on the ground with a head injury and she had never fully recovered, but she had been doing well so it was a shock for everyone. The problem is that no reliable analysis has ever been done on Sloth blood, so tests would have been useless in detecting abnormalities. This is knowledge that would be so valuable for Aviarios, yet they don't have the expertise or equipment to do it themselves - hopefully we can look into getting some samples analysed at some point in the near future.

Another thing I am hoping to find out more about is the strange milk-like goo that is secreted from both the eyes and nose of the two-fingered Sloth's at seemingly random times. I have seen it happen in both males and females at various times of the day under various conditions - very odd. We came up with the idea that it could be associated with pheromones and communication, but this is now looking less likely. It seems to happen more often when it's windy or raining hard (which makes them act strangely anyway and become SUPER acive) - So the goo-ing could possibly be stress related? This was backed up yesterday while moving one of the Sloth's to a shiny new enclosure - The secretions started when he was moved but were re-absorbed once left alone....! I will let you know how things go with this sloth snot stuff :)

These new enclosures have just been completed and are very impressive - I have added some pictures of how they are looking! Although some modifications need to be done to make the trees a bit stronger etc. The harness plan for my devices is working a treat, although I had some trouble yesterday finding a sloth chubby enough to wear one of the bigger daily diaries on the harness without it sagging - it needs to be a tight fit! I managed it on attempt 3 though - unfortunatley attempy 2 involved poor Sid-Wiggy who has now resumed his sulk. I am yet to attempt the harness on a two-fingered, they are much less willing to be wrangled - it might require a little tranquiliser (or a tasty flower, who knows....)

Just to add to the drama this week, I got to test out the Costa Rican healthcare system on Thursday. This all started while I was in a deeeeeep sleep having a fairly odd dream about a cross between a sloth and an orangutan (Maybe I have spent too long sloth watching...) Anyway someone banging on the window by my head sent me flying out of bed in a panic - flinging my Orangu-sloth across the room in the process - giving me horrible chest pains. A local doctor gave me some pills to relax my muscles, but things just got worse so they decided to send me to hospital to get checked out. So 4 injections and countless pills later I was knocked out cold for several hours and woke up feeling fantastic!! I'm still not sure what was causing so much pain and it was fairly worrying but whatever they gave me in those injections worked a treat so I'm not complaining - although injections in the bum = VERY painful. I want to thank Luis and Judy for looking after me so well, they couldn't have done a better job :) And also the lovely doctor who's name I cant remember right now, but she did a brilliant job!

Well I found my first snake last night (yay) - It was only a baby but was VERY cool, much better than any spider! We have a new house full of volunteers this week who are all lovely (and mostly english which is a relief cos now I can stop saying garbage, trash and poop so much). Went into Cauhita for one of the girls birthdays last night and had an amazing meal which was nice. I've turned into a real Ray Means wannabe and wrapped her present up in a bannana leaf complete with vine and flower decorations - classy !

Anyway I hope you enjoy the pictures, they involve mostly sloths, devices, my new house and the brilliantly wrapped present!

Much love xxx

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A little more about the research....

So I haven't had any daily diaries in use this week because of the attachment problems, I am waiting for some (small) harnesses to arrive in the post - Thanks mum! They should be here any day now and so I plan to tape the devices onto them then fit them on the Sloths nice and tightly so they won't be savaged or moved around! In the meantime my observations are going well - I have noticed a few interesting things.

Firstly they scratch a LOT ... and it definitley appears to be a communal behaviour. Nothing is known about this and it seems strange since they are naturally solitary. But when one begins to scratch, several others in the area ALWAYS start scratching too - so I plan to figure this out during my time here. We came up with the idea that the slow motion of the Sloth has evolved in relation to the speed at which a Harpy eagle recognises prey - so they generally move below that threshold. But when they scratch, they move more rapidly - 2 scratches per second on average ! With Rory's help we plan to find out if these scratching movements are above that threshold for a Harpy eagle's vision, and so find out if it is the scratching behaviour that gives them away. (This will involve Rory finding himself an eagle and moving objects at different rates in front of it!) If this is the case then it is possible that communal scratching almost acts as a dilution effect, reducing the chance that they will get eaten! - But I'm not so sure because they are generally solitary in the wild. Something funny is definitley going on though.

Another strange behaviour that isn't really understood is how they come down from the canopy once a week to defecate. It has been suggested that this is to avoid attracting predators via sound, but surely by coming down to the ground and spending a good amount of time down there is more of a risk? Especially considering they often use the same tree - fairly dangerous for a sloth that can't run away! So there must be some big advantage to coming down to the ground, and I think this could either be the transfer of Sloth moths or for communication reasons. No one really knows what sloth moths do, but in the wild they are covered in them! It is most likely that they feed from the algae growing on the fur, but it could be dead skin or mites etc. When I return to England I plan to bring with me some frozen sloth moths and a sample of the skin/fur from the sloth they were taken from. Back home the DNA from the moths stomach can be extracted and so we can find out exactly what they do eat and if it is in fact beneficial for sloths to have lots of moths!

One final thing I have noticed is that they craaaave salt! They will go crazy licking the sweat from your hand and particularly the bracelet I have that is salty from the sea. This is made more interesting by the fact that a recent study has described two-toed sloths in Peru feeding from human toilets -
They have suggested this could be for the mineral content, i.e. used as a way to get salt! So do sloths in the wild get salt from somewhere? I am going to see how their behaviour changes when given limited access to salt licks as one of my variables.

So that is pretty much what I am working on at the moment besides my behaviour scans. Once I get the harnesses and a thermometer I will be able to collect the baseline data and start manipulating their conditions to see what produces the most natural behaviours - it could be interesting !! :)

Monday, 20 September 2010

A few snap shots ....

Hola! Just adding a few pics so you can see what I have been up to. Im all alone now the sloth patrol had returned to England, but making plenty of friends! For the next 3 weeks pr so I am going to be doing behavioural scans every hour, day and night, recording the behaviour and body orientation of each sloth. It has taken me the last 3 days to create the spreadsheet for it - including working out the volumes of all 71 cages amongst other things!
Last night there was the first big storm since I have been here - it was a bit scary but blew over after a few hours. We lost all power though and the lightning was nothing like england!! It wasn't safe to leave the house so I hid upstairs with the boys like a wimp :) Anyway woke up this morning to brilliant blue skies so it looks like a hot one!