A Mate for Moe
If you’re one of Moe’s super fans, you may notice an empty tree in the Zoo’s Discovery Forest where the two-toed sloth would normally be. Where did Moe go? Don’t worry, she’ll be back soon…from her honeymoon!
That’s right! Moe will be off exhibit for a short while, snuggling up with a new mate named Twix. On short-term loan specifically for breeding purposes, Twix came to us from the Racine Zoo and will return once the honeymoon is over. A special off-exhibit honeymoon suite has been outfitted to set the mood, complete with a palm frond canopy and rainforest sounds.
While Moe is “on vacation”, her exhibit space is being upgraded and expanded with new trees and vines that will allow her more room to move around and explore once she returns to the Discovery Forest.
If all goes as planned, Moe will give birth to a single 12-ounce newborn 10 months later. With fully formed claws at birth, the youngster will cling to the fur on Moe’s belly for six months or more and remain with her for at least a year as young sloths do in the wild.
Sloths on the Go in Costa Rica
Meanwhile in Costa Rica, several young sloths that have been rescued and rehabilitated by Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) and The Sloth Institute (TSI) are making their way back into the wild with help from the Cincinnati Zoo. Last September, two of the Zoo’s Interpretive Animal Keepers traveled to Costa Rica to help TSI prepare for the sloth releases. Soon after, TSI initiated the release process for two sloths, Ellen and Kermie.
Ellen and Kermie are both two-toed sloths. Ellen arrived at the KSTR rescue center when she was about three or four months old. She was found on the beach alone with no mother in sight. Kermie was rescued when he was a mere newborn (less than one week old). He was found on the ground with a twin brother that sadly never made it to the rescue center alive. Both Kermie and Ellen have spent almost their entire lives together and they are now almost three years old. They are very bonded and spend most of their time together. They sleep together every day and have even been observed breeding!
Before venturing straight back out into the wild, the young sloths first spent some time acclimating to the forest in a 20X20X20 ft pre-release enclosure. Here they can climb and explore their new environment while still being provided shelter and food. TSI spent hours every day collecting leaves from the forest for Ellen and Kermie to eat so they could learn what to forage for when they are out on their own.
The next big step was to open the enclosure door, allowing Ellen and Kermie the opportunity to move freely between the pre-release enclosure and the wild as they choose. Over time, the hope is that they become more and more self-reliant and eventually stop returning to the enclosure at all.
Both are fitted with VHF tracking collars (funded by the Zoo). This way TSI staff can monitor the sloths around the clock and record their behaviors, postures, tree choices, food choices, and so on. TSI collects similar behavioral data on wild sloths in the area with which they can compare the behavior of the released sloths. This will let them know how the released sloths are faring in the wild and if they are acting like wild sloths.
With Ellen and Kermie well on their way back into the wild, the next sloths beginning this transition are two-year old Monster and one-year old Piper. Both three-toed sloths, Monster came to the rescue center as an orphan at just two weeks old; she was found crying and trying to cross the street on her own. Piper was rescued clinging to another young sloth after they had fallen down a rocky cliff onto the beach at high tide. Piper was about four months old when he was rescued. They have been learning the new sights, sounds and smells of the forest in their pre-release enclosure and the door is scheduled to open in about a month. They will be fitted with tracking collars and monitored in the same manner as Ellen and Kermie to assess the success of their release.
This is the first time hand-raised sloths have been released back into the wild. Long-term monitoring is important to determining its success. It will also help us learn more about the natural ecology of sloths and provide insight into how to overcome the challenges they face in the wild.
Stay tuned for more sloth news as we keep our fingers crossed for Moe and Twix here at the Zoo and Ellen, Kermie, Monster and Piper in the wild.