How a sloth mended a broken heart

Matthew Chatfield

By guest blogger Lizzy Dening So that was it. An unceremonious end to the relationship which had taken over my mind for the past few months, and I was left, reeling, and unsure what to do. Plus it was a few days before Valentine’s. I needed space to think, and lick my wounds. The weather being unpleasantly cold I decided to forsake the countryside in favour of London Zoo, a favourite childhood haunt, in hope of distraction. And I found it, though not from the sleepy spectacled bears, slouching in their straw beds, paws heavily slumped over faces. Nor was it found in the glistening eyes of giraffes, turtle lips hooked mournfully over the fence. In fact consolation was unexpectedly provided by the two-clawed sloth.

Sloth © 僕はカメラマンである

My first experience of the humble sloth, thousands of miles from London, was an understated one. A glimpse of a brown lump high in the Amazon canopy. Although I am of the opinion that wildlife is generally best viewed in its natural habitat, the sloth is perhaps an argument against this, as for scientific study Amazonian sloths are not the most co-operative of subjects. In more cynical moments we began to suspect the’sloths’ were actually balled up cloth, to make tourists feel they were getting their value for money. Therefore it took me completely off guard in London Zoo, to realise that sloths were not only larger, but speedier than I had thought. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to use the word’rapid’, to describe such careful placing of foot over foot, dark claws a miracle of adaptation for steady grip. This particular sloth was missing the claws of one forepaw, but easily overcame this disability with only a minor wobble, his determination quite undiminished. I was finally able to get a close-up view of a sloth’s face, its teddy-bear roundness set in a look of determination. This sturdy creature wasn’t about to be put off his mission by shrieking marmosets, who fought over fistfuls of locusts, but passed them by with a regal air of disdain. Displaying pride in his strong paws, looped around branch after branch, he instantly managed to dispel myths of laziness. I left the zoo, that quiet dusky evening, feeling inspired by the sloth’s steady level-mindedness. I would even go as far as to suggest that the sloth might well be perfectly adapted to heartbreak, as well as jungle life. They give a lesson in keeping one’s head down, focusing on a goal and ignoring the pettiness of day-to-day life. I want to be the first to offer the sloth a public apology for assumptions made about their personality. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this noble animal as a parody of idleness, but should in fact take a leaf from the sloth’s book (or branch perhaps), and learn a lesson about independence in a world sometimes both stressy and squawky.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

2 thoughts on “How a sloth mended a broken heart

  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I seem to remember being told at school that they only visit the forest floor every 2 weeks or so to open their bowels. I’m not sure whether this is likely or not. It is possible that they have sluggish innards or that in fact they relieve themselves from on high as well, in which case that’s yet another jungle hazard to bear in mind.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    What a lovely article about a lovely animal, Lizzy. Is it true though that wild sloths are actually green in colour and stringy where mosses and algae grow in their fur, so focussed are they on higher things than grooming?

    Reply

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