By Isabel Sanchez, AFP, Discovery Channel
They often arrive in bad shape — hit by cars, zapped by high-voltage wires as they climb trees, or orphaned because superstitious locals have killed their moms.
But life gets sweet once the gates open at Costa Rica’s sloth sanctuary, one of the few in the world specializing in the study of these famously sedentary and solitary mammals.
The youngest even get stuffed animals to hug in incubators. All together now: awwwwww.
Their digs are indeed nice: 130 hectares (300 acres) of lush tropical forest with a crystal-clear river flowing through it in Penshurt, 215 kilometers (130 miles) from the capital San Jose near Costa Rica’s east coast.
The Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary — a four-meter (13-foot) cement replica of one of the critters greets visitors at the entrance — was founded in 1992 by a Costa Rican named Luis Arroyo and his US wife, Judy Avey.
The idea is to protect, nurse and study the animals, but also to teach people about them.
Locals call them “osos perezosos”, or lazy bears, and some even associate them with witchcraft. They are an enigma of sorts. Why don’t they move, run, or jump, like other self-respecting mammals do?
“It hurts me that people do not appreciate them. They are not lazy, but rather simply slow. We can learn from their calm, to maintain serenity, as they do,” said Avey.
The refuge — originally supposed to be for birds in an area that is home to some 350 species — receives two kinds of sloth, two-toed and three-toed, both of which exist in Costa Rica.
Teresa Gonzalez, an employee at the sanctuary, says she has been feeding the animals for five years and knows their every quirk.
“One does not like carrots, but rather green peas. That one will let me bathe with him,” said Gonzalez as she held a baby sloth named Mojo, sucking away at a bottle of goat’s milk.
Look around and some sloths are perched in trees, others rest in baskets and young ones in incubators clutch stuffed animals as if they were their mothers.
The ones brought in as babies stay for good, because they do not know how to live in their native habitat. But injured adults are returned to the wild when they have recovered.