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Sloth Love in Costa Rica

by Zoe Helene
Baby Two-toed Sloth by Sam Trull for OSM

Baby Two-toed Sloth. Photo credit: by Sam Trull

If your Costa Rica travel plans include a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, take a short detour to check out the Kids Saving The Rainforest’s Wildlife Rescue Center, the only legal rescue center on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast. Founded by two 9-year-old girls who were inspired to help save the disappearing rainforest, Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) rehabilitates wounded, sick, abandoned and orphaned rainforest animals with the goal of releasing them back into the wild, healed and healthy. With a 50 percent release rate, KSTR is making a positive impact on Costa Rican wildlife.
“The best part of my work is the moment when we release animals back to the wild,” says Sam Trull, a photographer and former wildlife rehabilitator at KSTR who is now the Sloth Specialist at The Sloth Institute Costa Rica, a new independent spin-off project initially supported by KSTR. The KSTR rescue center, managed as a clinic, can care for as many as 70 wild animal “in-patients” at any time. In this biologically diverse region, visitors might see monkeys, sloths, anteaters, owls, kinkajous, raccoons, ocelots and even the occasional jaguarondi. Staff members and volunteers name every “inpatient.”
“We’re reversing the damage that’s been done in their lives,” Trull says. “We get so many animals because of human causes, like electrocutions, which is probably the number one reason we receive them. And these are so heartbreaking. Often these animals come in almost completely burnt.”
Baby Anteater copyright Primatography Sam Trull

Baby anteaters come into the center fairly regularly, usually because the mother was either killed by a dog or hit by a car. Copyright Primatography Sam Trull

During her two-year tenure as wildlife manager, Trull realized she had a passion for working with sloths. “Sloths are such loving animals,” she says, “They melt the hearts of all who see them.”
She’s now living her dream by serving solely as the Sloth Specialist at The Sloth Institute, a research and education center dedicated to helping the sweet, slow-moving creatures and preventing more damage. More and more sloth subspecies are becoming endangered as humans destroy their habitat.
“The Sloth Institute works very closely with KSTR, and I still take care of all the KSTR sloths, so we’re still very much in partnership with each other,” Trull explains.
Sam is featured with Newbie, a three-toed sloth she cared for, and Tiny, one of the youngest two-toed sloths she had ever come across, on BBC One’s, which airs September 23 and 30, 2015 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). After each broadcast, the episode will be available for online streaming at pbs.org/nature.
Her new book, Slothlove, which hits bookshelves January 2016, combines her passions—wildlife photography, conservation and rehabilitation—and helps support sloth conservation through its proceeds.
Marmosets copyright Primatography Sam Trull

These marmosets are safe and healthy but they cannot be set free. Photo by Sam Trull

Human contact with animals that are being rehabilitated for release is limited, but visitors can interact with “permanent residents” that have been deemed unreleasable. During one-to-two-hour tours, visitors see troupes of titi monkeys, marmosets and kinkajous in 12 different enclosures, including the recently added multi-species cage that houses a porcupine and a small troupe of capuchin monkeys. On premium tours, guests can watch through a glass window as vet techs rehabilitate and feed animals for release.
KSRF Monkey Bridge Kraft Family 600

A Titi monkey crosses one of the blue rope monkey bridges put up by Kids Saving The Rainforest. Photo courtesy of the Kraft Family.

“We rescue wild animals, but we also work very hard to prevent harm to them in the first place,” says Trull. Most of the baby animals at the center are orphaned because of human actions. Anteaters, for instance, climb trees to hunt for insects but spend half their time on the ground, where dogs or cars often kill them. The leading cause of death for the endemic titi monkey is electrocution by high-tension electric wires, so KSTR erected rope “monkey bridges” that offer a safe alternate route across strategic areas of Manuel Antonio. The species has been moved from a designation of “critically endangered” to “endangered,” which is rare and inspiring progress in wildlife conservation.
Baby Kinkajou copyright Primatrography Sam Trull

This tiny little girl is a baby Kinkajou (Potos flavus), also known as the “honey bear”. Photo by Sam Trull

“At KSTR, not only are we physically helping animals on a daily basis, but we’re also spreading the message about conservation and animals on a larger scale,” Trull says. “We’re addressing the immediate needs of the animals that are getting injured—literally in front of our eyes, sometimes—but also trying to plan for the future and address the long-term needs.”
Baby Titi Monkey copyright Primatography Sam Trull

Baby Squirrel “Titi” Monkey being bottle fed. Photo by Sam Trull

The center tries to put babies of the same species together so they can learn and grow together. “If they become entirely dependent on humans, they’ll learn how to never become wild,” Trull says. “It’s a tricky situation, for sure, because they do need you for emotional development and just to learn how to be wild, not just logistically but also emotionally. Then you have to back off when it’s time.”
Sam Trull with newborn baby three toed sloth by Seda Sejud

Newborn baby three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) sloth to her chest. This method is called “skin to skin.” Photo by Seda Sejud

Trull holds a newborn three-toed sloth born immediately after her mother, who was brain-damaged when she fell from a tree, underwent the world’s first emergency C-section performed on a sloth. Trull is using a “skin to skin” method of increasing body temperature to reverse hypothermia, a common complication in C-section births. “It’s a quick and effective method, and it worked.”
Baby Ocelot copyright Primatography Sam Trull

Someone killed this Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) kitten’s mother and kept the baby as a pet. Photo by Sam Trull

This orphaned ocelot kitten was confiscated after someone killed her mother and kept her as a pet, which is illegal in Costa Rica. One of the best ways to help the animals is to not support the exotic wildlife pet trade, she says. “People in the United States fuel the pet trade in other countries. Just because you buy the animal in some pet store in Florida doesn’t mean its mother wasn’t killed.”
Slothlove copyright Primatography Sam Trull

Kermie and Pelota, these adorable two-toed sloths, grace the cover of Sam’s new photography book, Slothlove. Photo by Samantha Trull

Trull’s new photography book, Slothlove, is a collection wonderful sloth photos with inspirational and heartbreaking stories about survival and loss as well as interesting sloth facts. Kermie and Pelota, two-toed sloths that Sam raised from tiny babies, grace the cover and are also in the book. Trull hopes the book will teach people to “appreciate these amazing animals for more than their obvious cuteness.” She also hopes to inspire people to help protect all wildlife and natural habitats. “I hope to increase awareness about the critical issues faced by sloths and all wildlife,” she says. “I’d like to see more effective collaborations with conservation and animal rescue organizations around the world.”
Interested in reading more about Costa Rican wildlife? Click here for more about this wondrous region.
Photos by Samantha Trull. Copyright protected and published with permission.

Want more from Zoe Helene? Check out her latest projects at  zoehelene.com

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