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Saving the Pygmy Sloth from Extinction

Aims

To significantly increase the protection and awareness of Isla Escudo de Veraguas as a unique habitat using pygmy three-toed sloths as a flagship species through long-term collaborations with Panamanian authorities and local communities.

Image | Pygmy three-toed sloth | © Craig Turner / ZSL
Location
Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama
Species Background

The pygmy three-toed sloth was only recognised as a distinct species in 2001, and is the smallest of the sloths. It can only be found on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, which separated from mainland Panama 9,000 years ago. Famous for its slow movements the pygmy three-toed sloth is thought to live predominantly in mangroves. Spending most of the day hanging upside down in trees sleeping and eating mangrove leaves, the pygmy sloth can turn its head up to 270 degrees without moving its body. The population is Critically Endangered.

Map & Range
Species Threats

The major threat to the pygmy three-toed sloth is mangrove destruction and degradation which is reducing the size of its already small habitat, but it may also be at risk from occasional poaching by humans who have recently moved onto the island.

Project actions
  • Conduct a thorough census and genetic survey of pygmy sloths on Isla Escudo de Veraguas to get data on population numbers, behavioral ecology and home range.
  • Identify and measure the key pressures on pygmy sloth populations, through socio-economic surveys.
  • Increase national awareness of the plight of the pygmy sloth and the importance of the island by hosting a pygmy sloth conservation workshop for fishing communities and development of an education pack for local schools.
  • Work with local and national governments to develop and improve enforcement of the islands and to ensure Escudo is recognised as an important area of biodiversity.
  • Identify an in-country conservationist to become an EDGE Fellow to receive necessary training and equipment to lead the management of the long-term sloth monitoring programme
Achievements
  • March 2012 – ZSL EDGE scientists carried out an extensive population survey of pygmy sloths on Escudo de Veraguas and estimated there may be less than 100 individuals left within the mangrove habitat.
  •  A total of 14 mangrove habitat patches were mapped with GPS software and evidence of continuing encroachment by humans into pygmy sloth habitat recorded.
  • A preliminary workshop was undertaken to identify parties interested in assisting with the conservation of the island and its natural resources.
Future Actions
  1. The production of a long-term pygmy sloth conservation strategy which shall be adopted by local and national authorities, leading to elimination of poaching and reduced mangrove deforestation.
  2. Conduct a second assessment of the sloth population and search for additional mangrove patches on the island
  3. The hiring of a local park guard and provision of the training, equipment and infrastructure for them to effectively protect the island and its wildlife. 
  4. Wide release of peer-reviewed publications of pygmy sloth population data and socio-economic threats, while increasing international awareness through press releases and the internet.
  5. At least 150 fisherman and their families educated on the ecological importance of Escudo de Veraguas, organized into a community-based conservation committee.
  6. The appointment of an in-country EDGE Fellow.
Project Collaborators
Related Media
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Our two EDGE scientists David and Craig had battled bad weather and stormy seas to get a glimpse of the elusive pygmy three-toed sloth on Escudo Island. They had managed to spot one shy ...
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Project Funding Bodies