Skip to main content

Surprise! It’s a sloth!

Posted On: Jul 31st, 2021

Photo: Jordan Danflous, a guest engagement keeper at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, keeps an eye and a hand on the zoo’s newest addition, a two-month old Southern two-toed sloth, as he explores the new South American Adventure exhibit

By Allison Marlow - Gulf Coast News Today

Link to published article

Sylvia is a typical American mom.

She keeps her baby close but is thankful when a helper comes to take him for a checkup so she can munch on lunch in peace.

And she doesn’t appreciate it when the tot settles onto her head for a nap, digging his long, curved nails into her hair.

Ahh, motherhood. The joy and the exhaustion feels the same in any language, human or sloth.

Today Sylvia and her bundle of joy, both Southern two-toed sloths, will greet members of the public for the first time since the baby’s birth in May as part of the new South American Adventure exhibit at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

The tiny sloth arrived on Mother’s Day. The staff suspected Sylvia was pregnant but wasn’t certain. That morning as staff members made their rounds the black walkie talkies they carry began to hum with the sounds of confusion, then excitement.

“I think everyone here that day sprinted to the sloth exhibit,” said Hannah Fries, guest engagement keeper. “We didn’t even notice the baby at first. He was on her belly and just looked like more fur.”

Fries said the staff doesn’t know yet if Sylvia’s boy is in fact, a boy or a girl. That distinction is not as obvious as it is in other creatures, she said, and usually requires a blood test to determine.

As for names, the zoo has asked for the public’s assistance. Dozens of suggestions were submitted, and the staff narrowed the field to five: Chewie, Eco, Flash, Gus and Shaka. Visitors can vote for a name online with a $1 donation. The funds collected will be used to purchase more vegetation for the sloth exhibit.

When the tiny sloth, who weighed less than a pound at birth, and his parents Sylvia and Herbert, greet the crowd today they will be in the zoo’s new South American Adventure exhibit. A set of ropes gives the animals room to roam where the public can see them but walkways within the exhibit maintain a sense of closeness for the zoo’s sloth encounter program.

Outer ropes on the exhibit will provide a perch for colorful macaws. On the ground below tortoises will roam. The set up gives visitors an opportunity to see the animals in a more natural setting, said Zoo Executive Director Joel Hamilton.

Fries said the well socialized sloths are an easy animal for people to view up close because they don’t move quickly. Even the newest sloth seemed comfy snuggled against her while cameras clicked and whirred.

More importantly, she said, encounters with sloths or any animal at the zoo is an opportunity to help visitors understand why they should care about the environment.

Hamilton said every encounter at the zoo, whether through keeper talks, presentations or the chance to hold a sloth is meant to help visitors make a connection.

“We utilize these encounters to reach people and hopefully help them make a connection and look at the impact they make on the world and help change the world,” he said.