Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Close Call

Since giving birth to baby Jo-Jo, Madonna hasn't moved from her favorite tree - this has made my job very easy! It doesn't take me very long to locate her on my daily visits to the jungle. On one of these visits, I had a hair-raising moment. Having reached the base of Madonna's tree, before I even had the chance to look upwards, I heard a terrifying crashing noise. Without a second thought my instincts kicked in and I began to run. Honestly I didn't have a clue what I was running from, but I was running anyway! I only stopped when I heard a sickening thud; a thud that I have heard all too many times. This was the kind of thudding noise a sloth makes as it hits the ground. 

Baby Jo-Jo clinging onto Madonna
I spun around and to my horror, I immediately saw what I was fearing. It was Madonna and Jo-Jo. The branch she had been holding had broken and they had fallen about 30ft, landing exactly where I had been standing 2 seconds earlier. Either Madonna was trying to get rid of me or she just has terrible timing. 

For what seemed like an eternity everything was still. I was rooted to the spot. It took me about a minute to realize I wasn't even breathing. Finally I saw some movement and to my relief it was Jo-Jo. She had landed about a foot from Madonna and was making her way over to mom. As fast as I could I whipped out my camera and began to film what was happening. Jo-Jo safely climbed back onto Madonna's side and she began making her way towards the base of the tree. 

It was only when she started to climb upwards that I suddenly realized something very frustrating. It quickly dawned on me that this was the perfect opportunity for me to replace her Backpack and collect the existing data. Well.... it would have been perfect if I had remembered to bring the right equipment. I had to stand and watch her and Jo-Jo climb up and out of reach, I have never kicked myself harder. It's safe to say I have learned this lesson the hard way and now bring everything I could possibly need with me on every trip into the rainforest. 

Madonna climbing back up her favorite (tagged) tree
Me and Madonna as she climbs back up her tree
After their fall, thankfully Madonna and Jo-Jo both seem to be doing fine. I think the whole ordeal terrified me more than them. 


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Happy International Sloth Day!

October the 19th is officially International Sloth Day - a great reason to slow down and embrace your inner sloth!

New research published this week has shown just how important sleep and relaxation can be for our mental wellbeing, so let's put our feet up and treat ourselves to a bit of downtime today!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

... And a baby was born!

At 10am on October 5th, I was trekking through the jungle trying to avoid the giant spiders whilst scanning the treetops for Madonna, the female sloth I have tagged with a backpack. I couldn't see her anywhere. 

With my neck getting stiff from staring upwards I was beginning to lose hope of finding her (even with GPS and radio transmitters telling me exactly where she is, it can be impossible to see her through the canopy sometimes!) Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. It was Madonna and she had moved to a low down tree. She was acting strangely, and it didn't take me long to figure out why. She was giving birth, right there in front of my nose, I couldn't believe my eyes. I felt like laughing, screaming, crying and celebrating all at once. With shaking hands I grabbed for my camera and began trying to record what was happening. Unfortunately the gloomy jungle made photographs and videos difficult, but out of thousands that I took a few worked out well. 

As the baby made it's way into the world (looking a little bit like a slimy alien...) things didn't quite go as I am sure Madonna had planned. Instead of climbing up onto her chest, the baby crawled onto her hand and somehow got tangled up in a vine. Then the baby fell. I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head. A million scenarios of what I should do raced through my mind but I found myself rooted to the spot. Thankfully I didn't have to intervene. By some miracle, the baby managed to grab onto Madonna's leg with it's tiny fingers and began to yell. Madonna quickly scooped her baby up and into the safety of her arms where she began the clean up job. Meanwhile I was still picking my jaw up off the ground with my camera glued to my face. 

A near disaster..

Over the next hour, Madonna happily chewed through the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. By now the baby was starting to look a bit more like a typical cute baby sloth and was snuggled on Madonna's chest. She took a moment to move to the front of the tree and lean back with her arms out, completely exposing the baby to me, before beginning her climb back up to the canopy. Why she did this I have absolutely no idea, but I definitely wasn't complaining. 

Madonna apparently showing off her new baby!
I have been following her movements ever since the birth and I am happy to announce that both mom and baby are doing great. The baby can only be described as a whopper, clearly taking after Madonna. She was, after all, by far the biggest sloth I have ever worked with! We won't know baby's gender for a while but he/she has been named Jo-Jo, fondly referred to as little 'peanut'! 

After the birth, Madonna curled into a ball at the top of her favorite tree and stayed there. In fact, she didn't move a muscle for 3 days. I couldn't see the baby at all, and I nervously began scanning the forest floor to make sure she hadn't dropped the little peanut. On the 4th day she was back relaxing in the place she gave birth, with a fluffy and bright eyed Jo-Jo clambering all over her. Today she came down to the ground to poop (I found the mountain of evidence) before climbing back up into her favorite tree. At only 5 days old, I was amazed to see Jo-Jo attempting to eat a leaf (and a branch, and basically anything that was within reach- we clearly have something in common!)

Yes, that is Jo-Jo sticking out a very long tongue!
... and eating a twig
So far, everything has worked out perfectly. Because Madonna was in our care before being released, she is completely habituated to our presence and doesn't feel threatened. I knew this ever since she happily sat on my knee as we traveled to the release site - we have never known a wild sloth to be that trusting of humans. She really is special. 

I feel incredibly privileged to have been witness to such a special moment in Madonna's life. With her backpack still working, I am going to be able to follow her for the next year, watching and learning exactly how she raises that little baby. She is going to teach us a huge amount, and I can't wait to share this adventure with you.