Sunday, 2 January 2011

Sloth Sanctuary Costa Rica

As we are spending two weeks with the sloths there's not much to report really. We still get up at 5 a.m. every day and spend the day with the sloths. Which is just as well really as the weather hasn't been good for motorbike travel. The Pacific side of Costa Rica was lovely but as soon as we came over to the Caribbean it started to rain. It's the first rain we've seen since Mexico, so we can't complain too much but it has rained every day we've been here and we only had a few hours of sun on Christmas day and that's about it. Costa Rica and Panama have had horrific wet seasons this year and it just won't end. And evidently it is the wet season on the Caribbean coast now.

Volunteer house

We had a day off and planned to get on the bike and head down the coast exploring. There is supposed to be some good diving here so we thought we'd check it out. For once it wasn't raining and as we walked over to the Sanctuary where the bike had been parked up for the last week, the sun even came out. We'd chosen a good day to take off as over 300 cruise ship tourists were arriving at the sanctuary. We donned our gear and got on the bike. And then the dreaded happened. I'd been fearful that this would happen one day and got that horrible feeling you get when you press the ignition key and – nothing. Well not exactly nothing. It went Click Click Click. That was it. I thought back to the mechanic in San Jose who'd told me the battery was getting flat. I hadn't touched the bike for a week and it didn't take a genius to guess what had happened.

I got my Haynes manual out to see what I could do – assuming that the battery was flat. I took the seat off the bike to have a look at the battery to see if the rain had done any damage. It looked OK although there was a little mould growing on the battery case. Whilst I was doing this a German guy came over with a huge video camera. He was working on the cruise ship as a videographer (having just finished a stint on Big Brother Germany) and wanted me to take him on the back of my bike so he could film my trip . I guess anything is better than working on a cruise ship. I told him I would love him to come along but my German built motorbike had a different idea. Two or three German tourists came up and blatantly took photos of us and the bike but without saying a word. A little weird.

Baby Bradypus (Three fingered sloth)

In the end I decided that I wouldn't be able to do anything about the bike on my day off and probably not for a while as it was December 30th anyway. I posted a few questions about BMW batteries on two Adventure motorbike websites (Horizons and ADV) and we caught a bus to the nearest town to have a look around. The weather had deteriorated a little so coastal Costa Rica wasn't at it's best in the rain but we tried to make the most of it. We bought some food to supplement our rice and beans diet in the volunteer house and returned to the sanctuary.

I went online to find that I had already received several useful comments! Most people seemed to think that it was probably just a dead battery although it could be something more serious. The first thing to do, however, would be to test the battery to check that it was dead and then replace it. Luckily this had happened in Costa Rica and only 4 hours by bus from the BMW dealer I had used last week. (I hate to think how I would have dealt with this if it had happened in Honduras or Guatemala). I slept on it, thinking that I would have to take the battery out and take it to San Jose so I could get a new one. However in the morning I remembered that one of the ladies who works in the gift shop in the sanctuary had commented on how nice my bike was when we'd arrived. She had a small motorbike herself and I went to find her to ask if she knew a mechanic. She did, she gave him a call and he'd due to come tomorrow (Monday) to see if the battery is indeed flat. So, watch this space...

So, having spent two weeks with the sloths here's what I think. I am no fan of Zoos and do not think we should lock animals up just for our own benefit. However, some animals cannot be returned to the wild so what do you do? The sentiments of the Sloth Sanctuary are spot on. They are here to Rescue, Research and Educate. Rescue sloths in Costa Rica who have been run over, electrocuted on the pylons and attacked by people. Educate the local population but also the wider world (this is the ONLY Sloth santuary in the world) and to research these little known creatures. There is so much we still don't know about Sloth life and it was only four or five years ago that there anatomy was first mapped.

There are 89 two fingered and 9 three fingered sloths here plus about a dozen babies. Obviously they are well looked after but they are still in cages. It's depressing to see 100 animals in small cages and it's hard not to think they would be better off (or at least the ones who survived would be ) in the wild. But its easy to anthropomorphosise and if any wild animal was “suited” to living in a small cage it's got to be a sloth. In the wild they mainly live in one or two trees; the don't move around much; are fairly solitary and like hanging upside down. So a small wire cage is fine. 

So, volunteering has been good fun and very educational. I've learnt a lot about Sloths; challenged some of my preconceived ideas on conservation; had a rest from riding my bike; got a much better understanding of what Costa Rica has to offer; and ended up refreshed and renewed for the last leg of this journey.

Cruise ship tourists enjoying the rain

Too many carrots even for Tracy

What next? I'm planning on shipping the bike to South Africa. It all depends on when the next boat is but I hope to fly back to the UK for February and then head out to Cape Town in March, much as my original plan. The only change is that I've decided to do a circuit around southern Africa and ship back to the UK from Cape Town rather than head up to Kenya/Ethiopia. Why? I can see more of Southern Africa this way; I've been to Tanzania and Kenya (and lived in Ethiopia); shipping to UK from Cape Town will be much easier that flying to Europe from Ethiopia or Kenya. As I get more and more into this trip it becomes much more about what I want to do (go to places I haven't been to before) and I feel less and less inclined to have to do the classic routes (Cape Town to Cairo) Seems like I chose well when I called my blob the dom way round.

More sloth pictures I'm afraid.

We can borrow the canoes and go out onto the canal (if it's not raining)

Looking for snails in the morning feed (6 a.m.)

Us on New Years Eve. (alone as usual)

P.S. People were a little downcast at work this morning. Two of the baby sloths had died during the night. Then later I was clearing out one of the cages (Mocha and Hershey). Both sloths seemed very agitated as did the sloth next door. I took a closer look at Mocha to discover that she had a new born baby attached to her hind leg (in fact she had had twins and the other was attached to her other leg.) These are the first sloth twins ever born in captivity. In fact this is the first time anyone has ever witnessed sloth twins at all!

As I found them I get to name them. I've gone for Sebastian and Viola. I wonder who thought of that....

New Years day was actually sunny.


  1. Wow! What a nice experience! I happened to find your post because I love sloths. Are they as friendly as they look?

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