Are Sloths Endangered? (Going Extinct?)

Sloths are the archetypal slow coach mammal that lives in the trees of Central and South America, as a result, their survival largely depends on the condition of these forests.

Sloth Species

For the most part, sloths live unseen and spend the majority of their lives hiding high up in the trees away from the threat of predators. They are arboreal mammals, which means they have evolved for locomotion among the trees, essentially they are built for this habitat.

There are six species of sloth in total – split into two distinct families: the two-toed and the three-toed sloths. The naming is misleading since all sloths have three toes; however, two-toed sloths have two fingers. The six species of sloth are named as follows:

Three-toed sloth species: genus Bradypus

  • Pygmy three-toed sloth
  • Maned three-toed sloth
  • Pale-throated sloth
  • Brown-throated sloth

Two-toed sloth species: genus Choloepus

  • Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth
  • Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth

Which Sloths are Endangered and Why?

Out of the six species of sloth, one currently holds the vulnerable status, while the other, lke the snow leopard is critically endangered and the others are of concern.

The Pygmy Three-toed Sloth: Status – Critically Endangered

The pygmy three-toed sloth is also referred to as the dwarf sloth is native to an island named Escudo de Veraguas, located adjacent to the coast of Panama. It is named so due to its small size in comparison to other sloth species, for instance, the brown sloth is almost twice their weight. Like all sloths, it is a tree-dwelling mammal – solely found in red mangrove trees, which are limited to a very small area on the island (around 4.3 square kilometers). Unfortunately, a 2012 study investigated the species and found that there were a mere 79 pygmy three-toed sloths remaining in their natural habitat.

Why are they at risk?  

Like many other species in Central and South America, the pygmy three-toed sloth is facing extinction due to the habitat destruction and degradation. This is largely due to new construction projects on the island and lumbering, and this issue is further exacerbated by conflicts between local populations and the authorities. As a result, The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the pygmy three-toed sloth in the world’s 100 most threatened species.

Maned Three-toed Sloth: Status – Vulnerable

The Maned three-toed sloth is native to Brazil and can now only be found living in the Atlantic coastal rainforest, where like all sloths; it can be seen living among the trees.

As their name suggests, these sloths have a black colored mane around their heads that runs down their backs. A short, white undercoat, covered by a long coat of dark brown and black outer fur covers the rest of the body, which itself is usually home to various algae and mites. Similar to lions, the males have a large black mane, while females of the species have a mane that is usually much smaller, sometimes even restricted to a few short strands of hair. The Maned sloth was placed on the vulnerable list in 2009.

Why are they at risk?

Sadly, their natural habitat – the Atlantic coastal rainforest has faced widespread destruction and is now just 10% of its original size. As usual, the main cause of this loss is down to human activity such as lumbering for industry and new construction projects. For instance, farming, plantations and cattle pasturing all require deforestation to create a suitable clearance, leading to loss of the sloth’s natural habitat. Other threats include widespread hunting and although quite rare – threats from vehicles.

Unfortunately, deforestation still remains an issue and so as long as their home remains under threat, so does their survival.

Brown-throated Sloth: Status – Least Concern

The Brown-throated sloth is located throughout the forests of Central and South America and is the most common of all 6 sloth species. It lives its life in the treetops and sleeps around 15-20 hours each day, only coming to the surface to defecate once a week. The species lives a solitary life, only socializing with other sloths for breeding purposes and to raise offspring.

During mating season, females of the species are known for their high-pitched scream, used to attract mates. The scream has a characteristic “ay-ay” sound. Males can easily be differentiated from females as they are slightly larger in size and have a familiar black stripe on their backs.

Why are they at risk?

Brown-throated sloths are at risk due to habitat loss, mainly caused by deforestation. However, they are of least concern since their habitat is widespread throughout Central and South America and includes Honduras in the north, through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama into Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Other threats include hunting and the pet trade.

Pale-throated Sloth: Status – Least Concern

Pale-throated sloths are very comparable in form to the brown-throated sloth; the reason for this is that data suggests the two species only diverged about a few hundred thousand years ago. Although alike in the presentation to the brown-throated sloth, unique traits include a rounded nose and small ears. Their forelimbs are almost twice the length of their legs and are each equipped with claws, used for climbing and navigating the treetops, as well as defense. Unusually, the females of this species are much larger than the males, and their fur is coated with green algae that serve to provide them with camouflage as they live among the evergreen trees.

Why are they at risk?

Pale-throated sloths are of least concern and their many habitats in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana remain largely intact.

Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth: Status – Least Concern

Named after the famous German physician Karl Hoffmann, the Hoffmann’s sloth has characteristically shaggy fur, long snouts and a shortage of fur on the bottom side of their feet. As opposed to three-toed species, they have two toes – actually fingers, since they are the front limbs and are known for their extremely slow and purposeful locomotion.

Unlike other sloth species, there are 5 separate subspecies of Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, found in two major locations of the Americas – the forests of the north to western Peru, and the other in the forestry range that ranges from Honduras to Ecuador.

Why are they at risk?

Widespread habitat loss is posing a threat to all subspecies of the Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth; however, there is a scarcity of figures to confirm their actual numbers in the wild.

Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth: Status – Least Concern

The Linnaeus sloth species is a close relative to the Hoffman’s two-toed sloth and as a result, they look remarkably similar in appearance. Variations between them include slight adaptations in skeletal composition, for instance, the Hoffman specious typically have fewer vertebrae. In comparison to three-toed sloth species, they have long hair and eyes and their front and hind limbs are more in proportion in terms of length.

A behavioral characteristic of the Linnaeus sloth is their ability to run from predators using their hind legs if discovered on the ground where they are most susceptible to attack. Since they are only adapted for locomotion among the trees, this often results in injury.

Why are they at risk?

The Linnaeus two-toed sloth species is a species categorized of least concern since their habitat remains largely intact. However, widespread deforestation and hunting in the region mean they do face a constant risk of habitat loss.

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