Years ago, Judy Avey-Arroyo and her late husband, Luis Arroyo, created a Sloth Sanctuary outside of Cahuita, Costa Rica.
Avey-Arroyo and her husband met when they worked in Alaska. They began caring for sloths when a neighbor told them about a baby sloth she found without its mother, according to CNN. The couple didn’t hesitate to take care in the baby, whom they later named Buttercup, even though they knew nothing about sloths at the time.
Sloths are common in Costa Rica, so the Arroyos observed wild ones to learn about their habits; for example, they noted which plants mothers gave their young. They also built a climbing structure for Buttercup which mimicked trees she’d climb if she were in the wild.
Arroyo was originally from Costa Rica and bought land there. He initially intended the land to be either a vacation spot or a site for a birdwatching business. After adopting Buttercup, it became a sloth sanctuary, and in 1997 was officially recognized as a rescue center.
Today the preserve cares for 214 sloths of all ages. If the animals are injured, they receive long-term care, while others who recover are released into the wild.
Avey-Arroyo told CNN that contrary to popular belief, sloths aren’t lazy. They only need to come down from their tree about once a week in order to poop and digest their food slowly due to an extremely slow metabolism, according to World Wild Life and The Sloth Conservatory Foundation. They sleep 15-20 hours a day and are surprisingly amazing swimmers. Sounds like a good life!
There are six species of sloths subcategorized into two types: the bradypus and the choloepus. The bradypus have three toes and brown facial markings while the choloepus have two toes, are slightly larger, and have a more overall tan coloring, according to Live Science. Interestingly, both have three toes on their hind limbs, but the choloepus only has two toes on their front limbs.
The sanctuary has faced its fair share of critiques. In 2016, a former employee told The Dodo the sloths were being kept in dangerous conditions. Additionally, some feel the preserve has turned into a zoo. However, Avey-Arroyo said her passion is helping people understand misunderstood animals like sloths, especially when the media and popular culture misrepresents them. For example, many people don’t know the largest of the ancient sloths used to be elephant sized!
“I just love sloths […] They're so peaceful, they're so generous, they're so gentle,” Avey-Arroyo told CNN.
The late Mr. Arroyo dreamed about people loving and appreciating sloths, and Avey-Arroyo and her staff work hard to ensure these adorable animals have a safe haven. All these years later, their dreams are finally coming true.