A sloth has become so besotted with one of his keepers that he now refuses to get out of bed until she cradles him like a baby.
The unlikely friends started the morning routine two years ago, when Gordon the sloth began behaving differently around keeper Amelia Jones than he did with all the other keepers at Drusillas Park in Sussex.
Amelia talks about how it all started: “When I first started working with our sloths, I was actually a little bit intimidated by them, they are powerful animals and I used to keep my distance.
Gordon lives with our hand-reared sloth, Flash, and Flash is very confident around humans and often acted like the boss with me."
"However, Gordon took a very gentle approach with me, like he knew I was nervous, and would slowly come to where I was, peer at me sweetly, and patiently watch me carrying out my duties.”
Gordon seemed to sense Amelia’s nerves and took it upon himself to make Amelia feel more at ease by showing affection towards her by encouraging interactions between them.
“It’s quite a normal part of everyone’s routine to carry our sloths from bed to their on-show enclosure in the mornings, but I noticed more often that Flash would happily take herself into the enclosure without my help and only Gordon would need picking up.
"I then noticed some mornings, even if Gordon had already moved to his enclosure, when he saw me, he would go back to bed and wait for me to pick him up!”
When Amelia cleaned their enclosure each day, Gordon started climbing down onto the floor to where she was and would pick up the bucket and sponges as though he was trying to help, which is highly unusual behaviour, and was seemingly reserved for Amelia alone
As Gordon helped Amelia’s confidence around sloths grow, and knowing they are very curious creatures, Amelia started to extend their walk between enclosures to visit the neighbouring animals.
Before long, Gordon would start to lean his body and steer Amelia towards the animals to carry out what had now become a routine.
“The day I realised I had accidentally created a routine with him, was one morning when I was in a rush and only had time to walk him quickly to his enclosure.
"When I put him down, he started pawing at me and pulling my t-shirt and acting really grumpy. And he stayed in a grumpy mood with me the rest of the day. That’s when I clicked that he’d expected his normal tour and was very unhappy it didn’t happen!
“Gordon is a really special, sweet boy and it’s a great privilege to work with sloths, so to experience the unique relationship we have developed is a real honour.”
Gordon and Amelia’s special bond continues to grow, and their morning cuddle and zoo tour are now a firm fixture on the daily to-do list.
Drusilla's are hosting an online sloth birthday party on Friday 22nd April to raise money for The Sloth Conservation Foundation.