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Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo originally purchased the 320 acre (129 hectare) lowland rainforest reserve to operate birding tours on the Estrella River. In 1991, when a devastating 7.7 earthquake completely changed the river’s course, the couple closed their bird tour business and decided to build a small hotel on the land instead. A year later, some neighborhood girls asked them to look after an orphaned baby sloth; as animal lovers, they agreed and the sanctuary was born.
Judy and Luis, along with what seemed like every other Costa Rican animal sanctuary, reserve, or zoo, didn’t really know how to care for a sloth. But by observing the wild population in their area and using a combination of common sense and maternal instinct, they raised Buttercup—now 24 years old and the adorable face of the Sloth Sanctuary. Unfortunately, due to deforestation, loss of habitat, power lines, dog attacks, and fast cars, the sanctuary has taken in a continuous stream of abandoned or injured sloths since 1992. The Costa Rican rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate and with habitats being destroyed for human development, sloths are frequently left in dangerous and often life-threatening situations.
The Sloth Sanctuary is located between Limon and Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The 320-acre (129-hectare) private nature reserve was previously called Aviarios del Caribe. You can get to the sanctuary via rental car, by taking a Sansa Airlines flight to Limon followed by a taxi ride, hopping on an Interbus via route Limon/Cahuita/Hone Creek/Puerto Viejo (let the driver know you are going to the sanctuary and you can get dropped off right at the gate), or by hiring a private shuttle van. There are two different tours offered, an inn where you can book a room, and a gift shop.
The Buttercup Tour is not available on Mondays. The tour is offered every hour, on the hour, from 8am to 2pm and your ticket purchase directly aids the Sloth Sanctuary. The tour gives guests an introduction to this amazing forest creature. You will learn about sloth behavior, diet, physiology, and habitat. There is also a canoe ride, which takes you through the sloth’s natural habitat, and of course, during the hour-long tour you will encounter the sanctuary’s residents.
The Insider’s Tour includes the Buttercup Tour and a canoe ride, but then leads to a behind-the-scenes tour. Sloth lovers, this is the tour you must take. There are two Insider’s Tours offered a day. Following the Buttercup Tour, you will visit the clinic where injured sloths are recovering, and then see the neonatal intensive care unit where the tiniest, most adorable sloths are kept. Here baby sloths are incubated because they are so small and fragile. Following this heart-melting experience, you will see the jungle gym, where sloths have an opportunity to socialize and exercise. This four-hour tour is a sloth lover’s dream!
The tours are a great way to educate people about the sloth trials and tribulations, and how human actions are affecting them and the other animals living in habitats impacted by heavy human footprints. The tours also help to keep the sanctuary afloat, since its operating costs and essential supplies all require funding.
The true mission of the Sloth Sanctuary, however, is to rescue and rehabilitate sloths in need, study, conduct research, and understand sloth behavior; and to promote environmental conservation and awareness among the general public, especially related to sloths and the rainforest. People generally only care about things they know and love. Interacting with these incredibly cute and special animals will surely make you care about them. Spread the sloth love!
If you are looking for a way to help the sloths at the Sloth Sanctuary, the sanctuary has a program where you can “adopt” a rescued sloth. Your donation of US$80 (UK£63), which can be paid all at once or in installments, will directly benefit the nutrition, wellness, care, and research of not just one, but all the sanctuary’s sloths. You will receive a personalized adoption certificate, a plush sloth toy, four new sloth rescue stories, and a collectable photo magnet. There is also the Earth Day project, which aims to reforest the area. For US$140 (UK£109), an almond tree—the sloths favorite food—will be planted in your honor, and you’ll be able to personalize a plaque to place upon it.