Who Says Sloths Are Slow?

SlothSometimes, if the boat we are using is small enough and the water level sufficiently high, we like to wander upstream on tiny tributaries of the Amazon. There is something exhilarating about easing up a blackwater stream with treetops so close you are practically sitting among them. Riding a couple of days like this is a great way to see wildlife, and it can be done from the comfort of a rooftop chair, with bird book and binoculars in hand. It is an endless sea of green, punctuated by the bright colors of a flowering bromeliad or orchid. Sunrise is so exciting we often are late going down to the dining room for breakfast.

But it's addictive and sometimes we find ourselves just wanting to see what's around the next bend and this goes on until the boat is literally floating beneath overhanging branches. Recently, as we slowly negotiated a bend in the Tigrillo River, we paused for a few minutes and one of our young guide trainees spotted a large female sloth (properly called the Brown-chinned three-toed Sloth) up a branch that was directly over the roof of the boat.

Full of energy and eager to please, he leapt straight up and hung from the branch and began advancing hand-over-hand up towards the resting sloth. Now, sloths are easy going and we have seen many of them feed as soon as they are lifted from their perch or even go straight to sleep. So, the prospect of this young fellow bringing the sloth close for photographs was not a bad one.

However, the sloth did not share this philosophy.  As soon as she woke up and saw the youngster closing in, she made a hissing noise and began descending the branch towards him.  And she did so rapidly! 

Sloth attack

When “Tarzan” realized the sloth was not going along with the program, his eyes widened and he reversed direction and began descending the branch with the sloth gaining rapidly.  Everyone was in hysterics.  In a scene reminiscent of the cartoons, our hero was in a panic.  With peals of laughter as a backdrop, it became a race between man and sloth.  Realizing she would win, and not wanting to have a sloth in his face, the guide let go of the branch and dropped to the roof of the boat.  None the worse for the wear but clearly outclassed by the sloth, he stared up at her as the boat continued upstream.

Brown-chinned Three-toed Sloths (Bradypus tridactylus marmoratus) descend from the relative safety of the treetops for several reasons and one of them is the occasional need to change trees. If that occurs during high waters when much of the Amazonian rainforest is inundated, then swimming is required. And it turns out that sloths are quite good at it!

Sloth swimming