Team from Drusillas call for action after witnessing wild sloth electrocution

WATCH: Staff from Drusillas witnessed a sloth being electrocuted by a power line in Costa Rica.

A team from Drusillas in Sussex are calling for more to be done to protect wild sloths in Costa Rica, after witnessing one being electrocuted by a poorly insulated power line.

Gemma Romanis and Tamara Nasser travelled from the zoo to Puerto Viejo as part of a conservation outreach initiative, to meet and work alongside their charity partner The Sloth Conservation Foundation (SloCo).

Whilst out sloth tracking for one of SloCo’s research projects, they were alerted by passersby that a Hoffman’s two-fingered sloth had mistaken live power lines for tree canopy.

The sloth was electrocuted and left with scorched bits of fur and exposed flesh wounds on its arms, legs, and face.

The team say the injured animal tried to climb up nearby trees but kept falling and slumping to the floor in pain.

The team from Drusillas witnessed the incident during a conservation outreach initiative in Puerto Viejo. Credit: Drusillas Park

Urban Sloth Project Manager, José García, managed the situation until the local wildlife rescue team arrived.

He said: "The sloth was clearly very weak, and I could see severe burns on its left arm, left leg, and down the face. We stayed to ensure no one tried to interfere with the sloth causing it further distress, and so the sloth didn’t climb too high to be easily caught to take to the emergency vets.

"On speaking to the owner of the property, she told me that just a few weeks ago another sloth died on the same part of the power lines, so this is not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last."

Around 3,000 animals are electrocuted every year in Costa Rica, and the country is thought to have lost approximately 50% of its arboreal mammal populations as a result.

Staff from Drusillas say over half of the electrocuted animals are sloths, with the death rate around 70%.

If the sloth survives beyond the initial electrocution, the rehabilitation process usually involves the amputation of limbs, which leaves the animal unable to return to the wild.

Staff from Drusillas say over half of the animals electrocuted every year in Costa Rica are sloths. Credit: Drusillas Park

Drusillas’ Headkeeper Gemma Romanis, who has cared for sloths for over a decade, witnessed the incident.

She said: "We travelled here to immerse ourselves in the work that SloCo are doing so we can better understand what actions we can take back in the UK to save sloths from extinction. But I’m absolutely speechless about what I saw today, I really did not expect to see first hand the threats sloths are facing. What urbanisation is doing to sloths in the wild is truly heartbreaking.

"But today also shows the importance of the work that SloCo are doing. Today’s horrible incident is sadly the norm of what sloths are facing everyday just to simply move from tree to tree and we need to work together to change it."

During a single week working with SloCo in Puerto Viejo, Tamara and Gemma reported witnessing sloths hanging from power lines on three separate occasions.

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The Sloth Conservation Foundation, headed up by founder Dr Rebecca Cliffe, are a collective of scientists and conservationists carrying out research and conservation projects to counteract the effects of urbanisation and secure a future for sloths.

Through their Power Line Insulation Project, SloCo is campaigning to fund the raw materials needed to insulate electricity lines, poles and transformers in collaboration with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and stop electrocutions from happening.

In addition, the Sloth Crossing Project aims to give sloths and other arboreal animals a safe way to travel by installing Sloth Crossing canopy bridges across roads and between habitat fragments in disturbed areas.

SloCo are also embarking on the first ever sloth census, which aims to reclassify wild sloths on the IUCN list from their current status of ‘least concern’. Without vital data to evidence the decline in sloth populations, they are at real threat of disappearing without us noticing.

The trip comes amid a recent push from Drusillas to increase their global conservation efforts.

They are in the application stage of launching The Drusillas Conservation In Action charitable fund, which will empower them to contribute more widely to species survival.