Why Did the Three-Toed Sloth Cross the Road?


And couldn't he have picked up the pace just this once?


New Year's Day, leaving Arenal: for the first time in what seemed like a week we found smooth pavement and I opened up the throttle, keeping it at about fifty with an eye open for el hombre. Rounding a corner just south of La Fortuna I spotted three men in the opposite lane standing beside a little truck, staring at a clump of gray fur in the road. Highway speed hones the senses and sharpens the mind, and this is a sampling of the thoughts racing through my head in the few seconds it took to pass the scene:
  • what are those guys doing?
  • roadkill. can't look.
  • ouch
  • can't be
  • don't hit the truck
  • nothing that walks the earth has a pelvis like that
  • stuffed koala
  • it just moved
I blinked a few times. As the others in the car craned their necks to follow the scene somebody - maybe me - muttered "sloth". I blinked again, suddenly not sure what to do next.
"YOU HAVE TO STOP THE CAR."
I braked and put the van in reverse, causing the rest of the group to freak out in fear of me backing over the thing. I flipped on the flashers and we clambered out into the heat. The little truck took off down the road in the opposite direction, leaving us to deal with the struggling creature on the pavement.


We'd never seen anything like it, at least not on the ground. Two gangly front legs splayed outward, two stubby rear legs angled improbably forward, none of them strong enough to lift the scruffy abdomen off the road. It looked so weird we had no way of telling if it had been flattened by a car or not. We held our breaths, waiting for some telltale cry to confirm our fears that this was a mortally wounded animal - and quietly calculating just how much agony it would have to display for us finish the job ourselves.
He stretched one long forepaw, crept forward an inch and didn't yelp in pain. He looked down at the pavement. He looked up at us. It was clear from his little frustrated muppet face that he knew the score - that he was way out of his element and surrounded by quicker animals, and that his only option was to try to finish the mission and hope we weren't hungry for sloth.
  • Do we need to shovel him to safety?

We formed a loose human cordon and waved a few oncoming cars into the opposite lane. It made for an agonizing five minutes. Sloths really are that slow, with every movement a deliberate and awkward effort.

Come on.

No sound out of him - with that face we expected to hear a tiny Chewbacca groan or something, but not a peep. He didn't even smell bad, as far as we could tell. Subconscious fears of sloth-borne tropical diseases unknown to American medicine kept us a few yards away at all times.

It took him forever to negotiate the pavement but as soon as he hit grass he sprinted the last few feet in about 45 seconds. A few moments after clamping three toes around a low tree branch he'd hauled his weird body off the ground and tucked himself deep in the leaves out of sight of the road.




We're all relieved to see the sloth out of danger, but at some point we need to return to the subject of hygiene. This specimen was a creeping community of aphids and moths that had made their nests in its unkempt fur and may well have been feeding off the algae thriving between his shoulders.
A little preening would go a long way toward a fly-free face. Maybe you could keep your eyes open long enough to steer clear of the road.

Our flat friend was in no mood for lectures; exhausted from the arduous crossing he dozed off in the tree. We took advantage of the photo op and were soon on our way back toward San Jose.


Clumsy video of an awkward crossing.

11MB mpeg.


Sloths spend almost their entire lives far above the dangerous ground, coming to earth every few days just long enough to dump some ballast. In Manuel Antonio word of a sloth high in the trees would send us scrambling for the telescope - here we stumbled across one close enough to touch. Why this guy wanted to get across the road is anybody's guess. How often anybody comes across a sloth in the road at one in the afternoon... it just can't happen that often.

Update (after googling a bit)

So it's not unknown for these guys to show up in the road in broad daylight. And it's not such a big deal to pick them up.




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