The Sloths are Coming! Behind the Scenes of a New Program on Animal Planet

This article was originally posted at my Scientific American blog.

This is the time of year many of us instinctively turn toward heart-warming movies and TV shows. If you are one of those people, I have the perfect nature show for you. Airing December 17th at 8pm on Animal Planet, it is a sweet, warm, and humorous story about an unusual place: the Avarios Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. Watch the most adorable screener, ever. In case you didn’t think cute could get cuter, I present exhibit A!

Not too long ago, I featured Lucy Cooke and her viral sloth videos in a post here at Psi Vid, Elements of a Viral Video–Cute Animals

Her first video, Meet the Sloths, was filmed in April 2010 and went viral on the internet almost immediately. Lucy was contacted by Discovery Channel shortly afterwards. She thought that the only sloth sanctuary in the world, founded and headed up by Judy, the “sloth whisperer”, would make a great story.

Lucy began shooting and researching in July 2010 to figure out which sloth “characters” would be featured. Three more trips with a cameraman followed with the filming finished in September 2011. Lucy had the privilege to get to know the owner, the assistants and, of course, the sloths!

The story follows five main sloth characters, each having different personalities and lives. The story of Judy, the sanctuary’s founder, is seen through their eyes.

Buttercup is the first orphaned sloth to appear needing Judy’s assistance. Having had a mom who ran a pet store, Judy had an innate sense on how to care for this sloth. Sloths are very difficult to raise and keep in captivity, but Judy did her best, nurturing Buttercup on goat’s milk and tending to her carefully. Buttercup is 20 years old, making her the oldest living captive sloth. Of course, Buttercup would not consider herself captive as she is quite the willful sloth, a couch potato who likes to watch TV with humans, and undoubtedly the queen of the sanctuary, perched in her wicker throne!

If your heart didn’t melt at the tiny baby twin sloths in the video, I can’t imagine what would do it. These two are

bundled up in special pajamas made of sports socks since they require a special treatment where their fur is shaved and a concoction of sulfur and lard coats their skin until they heal. I would love to take one of these adorable creatures home. Unfortunately, sloths are very difficult to care for and do not make good pets. I’ll just watch them on video and TV!

The hero of the program is Randy, a three toed sloth whose name describes him quite aptly. He is always looking for love and when the ladies let out a cry indicating they are in heat, Randy shows up! Since there are over 160 sloths at the sanctuary and they cannot afford have any unintended sloth pregnancies, Randy is actively discouraged from romancing the ladies and is relegated to search out in the wild for love. Lucy and her cameraman were incredibly fortunate to be the first ever to document on film two sloths mating. Amusingly, according to Lucy, mating is the only thing sloths do quickly!

In filming, Lucy decided to re-enact certain events, including Buttercup’s arrival at the sanctuary. It turns out that sloths as actors are a bit difficult to work with in that they insist on napping every twenty minutes or so.  Keeping a sloth awake against their nature is a tough thing to do!

While I don’t have cable TV, you can guarantee I’ve planned a visit to Mom’s house so I can watch “Too Cute! Baby Sloths” on Animal Planet on December 17th. I am looking forward to getting to know the other characters, including Rollo and Sidwiggy, at the sanctuary and learning more about the habits of the sloths (both the two- and three-toed variety).

If you are charmed by the program and the work of Judy and her helpers, you can donate to their worthy cause here .

I know what I’m doing December 17th at 8pm. Join me and tune in, too!

I can’t resist sharing one more sloth for the road.

All images courtesy of Lucy Cooke, used with permission.