Pygmy three-toed sloth: what his salvation depends on



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Pygmy three-toed sloth: what his salvation depends on

The Pygmy three-toed sloth is a sloth species discovered in 2001 on the Panamanian island of Escudo de Veraguas. As the name suggests, it is a miniaturized version of its mainland relatives, weighing about half and being 20% smaller than the latter.

The pygmy sloth specializes in life among the island's coastal mangrove forests. The precise number of these animals is uncertain, even if, due to the small extent of their habitat, a few hundred living specimens are estimated.

The recent project to use the island, currently uninhabited and sporadically frequented by fishermen, as a tourist paradise could give the final blow to a small and constantly declining population. A 2012 census of pygmy three-toed sloths estimated the total population at 79, of which 70 occurred on mangroves and 9 in the surroundings.

While their population has presumably always been low due to their restricted range, the 2012 census found far lower numbers than had been estimated by the IUCN in 2010.

Pygmy three-toed sloth: what his salvation depends on

A BBC documentary, in which English naturalist Chris Packham recognizes the pygmy three-toed sloth as the first in his list of the top ten discoveries in the 2000s, shows a rare clip of a swimming pygmy three-toed sloth.

Threats to the sloth's survival include timber harvesting and human settlement, that might lead to habitat degradation. The IUCN lists the pygmy three-toed sloth as critically endangered. Disease, habitat loss, or natural causes were larger factors in the species death.

A study in 2011 showed that there were 79 pygmy sloths in the wild. Studies in 2010 and 2013 suggested a recent population bottleneck and decline in genetic variability. It is also listed in CITES Appendix II. According to the IUCN, conservation efforts are being hampered by conflict between local peoples and the government.

After several observations, the corpses of the pygmy three-toed sloth were found to be unharmed physically, suggesting that predation is not a major threat.