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 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8659000/8659239.stm
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!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Pura Vida

So it has been an eventful but brilliant week since last time! To start with, Judy managed to break both bones in her arm in an attempt to catch a sloth that fell out of a huuuge tree at the sanctuary... the sloth survived fine but unfortunatley her arm didn't! Although it almost certainly would have died if it wasn't for her - She really is the saviour of the sloth's !!!

On a brighter note, we finally made it tothe beach. It's about a 2 min drive away from here and is beautiful - miles of desered black sand and jungle! We have been several times this week and stayed there into the evening sea kayaking and dancing to a bit of reggae reggae - actual paradise ! Although unfortunatley this means the number of sand fly bites on my legs has tripled to about 300 per leg ... it's a raging fire of itchiness right now!

Anyway apart from the odd evening at the beach we haven't had much free time. We are still having a bit of trouble attaching the daily diaries to the sloth's - we have had to scrap the tape idea for the 2-fingered and resort to the harness plan. We tried this first on one of the favourites here called Millie but had a HUGE panic after returning from the beach one night to find her lying motionless, eyes open and tongue out - she genuinely looked dead. But not to worry, apparently she sleeps like that all the time !! Anyway we have now put it on another one called Maddie. Shes amazingly friendly while licking my hand but as soon as I move it away she gets a little grumpy. So unfortunatley we had to use a tranquiliser to prevent being slowlyyyyy savaged! But she's fine now and giving us some good data :) Also, Sid-Wiggy who has been in a sulk for about a week after we first taped a device to him has finally forgiven us and is back to his normal self - i.e. forcing a cuddle from you by grabbing on and not letting go ! Anyway all is generally going well and hopefully the harness plan will work a treat!

Well I am off for a morning of sloth-watching, I will update more soon and add some pictures when I get round to it xx

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

2010... the year of the Sloth

So to set the scene ....I'm currently sat on a balcony, looking out over a jungle lagoon (complete with residant crocodile 'coco') while being savaged by angry mosquito's .... 44 seeping bites on one leg at the moment -We can't wear insect repellent or sun lotion around the Sloths ! Eddie the German sheapard/Rottweiller is chilling beside me looking a little warm and a crazy neon orange bird is sat on a tree infront of me wacking out a tune :) Pura Vida !!!

So basically, the last few days have been full of deliceous food, card games, research and Sloths ! Judy and Luis arrived on monday and they are brilliant, huge respect for all the work they do here, true sloth whisperers ! We enjoyed a special full english breakfast cooked Costa Rica style together first thing, it was a-ma-zing !!The research has been going well, although I am still trying to figure out the best way to keep the device on the Sloths ! They get a bit grumpy when we use tape and occasionally decide to slowly savage it over night. They can be amazingly destructive given enough time ! We created a harness out of silicon yesterday but it turned out to be too big so re-sizing is underway. We have managed to get some good data though despite the problems... ! Since meeting Judy and Luis its clear that there really is sooo much to learn about these crazy animals. The research is just waiting to be done and 11 months isn't long enough for me to fit everything in !!! And I think Sloth is a bit of an unfortunate name, they are way too cool to be named after a deadly sin. In Spanish they are called Osos Perezosos - 'Lazy bears' !! A little unfair really !! We have hatched a plan to re-name them something much better.. like Serenes or Stealths !! Watch this space, you heard it here first. Papa Sloth (Rory) of the Sloth Patrol team has jetted off miami now for a seabird conference, leaving us minions alone to discover the secret lives of Sloths without him, eeek !

Anyway it has taken me so long to write this that it is now dark and I am being savaged even more vicously by the flies, there may be nothing left of me by the time I come to write another update ! I haven't had much time to go beyond the sanctuary but what I have seen so far is pretty cool. One thing is the wild crabs... loaaads of huge purple and yellow crabs everywhere, particuarly in the toilet!! I have seen waaay more crabs and cockroaches than spiders which makes me happy :) Anyway, work to be done and cards to be played !! Chow xxxx

Friday, 3 September 2010

Arriving in Costa Rica !!

So after a boring 22 hour journey on a plane with no TV I have arrived in paradise !!! Very hot, sweaty and a little rainy, but amazing! Aviarios is beautiful, surrounded by jungle and FULL of Sloths. Pictures and videos just don't do Sloths justice, they are without doubt the cutest, strangest and definatley my new favorite animal on the planet! I held my first baby yesterday and if you ignore the pain of its little claws digging into your neck as it clings on, it's impossible not fall in love and want to keep it forever !! I am here at the mo with Rory (my supervisor), Gwee (his daughter) and her friend Gwen! They are all lovely and very funny !! I havn't met Judy and Luis who run the sanctuary yet but they arrive here on monday so can't wait to meet them!
Went into the local town (Cahuita) for the first time last night and had a look around. There isn't much there but it's very traditional and very pretty! Went for a meal and ate my body weight in steak. Also were also told to try Ceviche which turned out to be the local sushi and was actually nice, didnt taste of raw fish at all. Probably because it was soaked in lime juice! Unfortunatley we were stopped by 'grumpy features' on the way back (a very grumpy policeman) and shouted at for not having our passports - apparantley you have to always carry them round here!!
Research started today and is going well so far ! At the moment we are doing simple observations on exactly what the Sloths are doing... which surprisingly is sleeping ! Although it is a little more complicated because we are recording the exact positions of all the limbs etc and trying to record respiration rate by watching their noses !! But all is going well and I am looking forward to an afternoon of Sloth watching !! And also looking out for the local crocodile that is chilling in the river behind me !
I will update more soon and hopefully add some pictures when i get round to taking some! Lots of love xxx