October 16, 2020
Life in the Slow Lane
CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL SLOTH DAY
WITH AN UPDATE ON SLOTHS AT DENVER ZOO
If you’ve seen Kristen Bell’s famous sloth meltdown, you already know there are folks who have VERY strong feelings about sloths. Maybe you’re even one of them; we certainly have more than our share on staff. Recently, we’ve been getting questions about how to see sloths at Denver Zoo—so, in honor of International Sloth Day (October 22), we wanted to give you a quick update on our little sloth family!
HOW CAN I SEE SLOTHS AT DENVER ZOO?
Wookiee, Linneaus’ two-toed sloth, gets a tasty treat while participating in an Up Close Look
The Denver Zoo animal family currently includes three Linnaeus’ two-toed sloths: patriarch Elliot, matriarch Charlotte, and rising star Wookiee. Our youngest slow-lane traveler, born in April of 2019, spent a year bonding with mom before joining the Animal Ambassador team this year.
A nimble learner—well, in sloth terms, anyway—Wookiee quickly bonded with his trainers, who use positive reinforcement training to encourage various natural behaviors. Within a few weeks, he was experimenting with new foods (sweet potato and jicama are his favorites; apples, not so much) and cruising right out of his crate and onto the demonstration tree.
Today, you can "buy out” a private sloth encounter for up to six members of your personal pod. In this special and intimate experience, you’ll meet the knowledgeable animal care experts who keep Wookiee and our other Ambassadors happy and healthy...and even watch them conduct a training session.
WHERE ARE WOOKIEE’S PARENTS?
Charlotte Greenie, Linneaus’ two-toed sloth, behind the scenes in the flamingo indoor habitat
Since the closing of Bird World, we’ve gotten some questions about why our adult sloths, Elliot and Charlotte, are not on display. Linneaus’ two-toed sloths are nocturnal, so they can be difficult to spot under the best of circumstances. Our plans for a soaring sloth tree in the main atrium of Tropical Discovery, while temporarily sidelined by COVID-related cost concerns, should come to fruition in 2021.
Fun fact: sloths, like Millennials, are largely introverted and solitary—but pairs will mate if given the chance. As we’re not in a position to welcome another bundle of joy, Elliot and Charlotte must have separate quarters for the time being. Elliot currently occupies a behind-the-scenes habitat in the Felines area, while Charlotte is enjoying her spacious home in our flamingo flock’s winter quarters. A favorite of her keepers and anyone who’s met her, Charlotte serves as Denver Zoo’s unofficial Staff Morale Booster.
Elliot, Linnaeus two-toed sloth, in old Bird World habitat
AND FINALLY, SOME SLOTH FUN FACTS!
Wookiee’s Up-Close Looks tend to book out pretty far in advance—so, while you’re waiting for your private audience with our favorite Choloepus didactylus, here are a few things you might not know:
ESCAPE CLAWS: sloths’ distinctive claws, which are essential for climbing and hanging, are actually extensions of their elongated distal phalanges, or finger bones. Each of these bones is encased in a durable sheath of keratin—the same material that makes up your fingernails and hair.
ENERGY STAR: Evolution has blessed sloths’ bodies with an enviable level of energy efficiency. Because muscle requires a higher caloric intake, sloths have about 30% less muscle mass than similar-sized mammals. Yet, thanks to a unique organization of muscle fibers, they’re disproportionately strong.
FLOAT TRIP: Two-thirds of a sloth’s torso is stomach—protected by the most ribs of any mammal—and much of that volume is occupied by gas from fermenting leaves. The extra buoyancy, combined with long arms and robust pulling muscles, enables them to travel three times faster in water than on land.
LOOK SHARP: Two-toed sloths have four self-sharpening pseudo-canine teeth: two on the top, two on the bottom. A slight overbite creates honing friction every time they open their mouths—while natural tannins from the leaves they consume keep the top two fangs a delightfully goth shade of jet black.
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