Sloth Onslaught

They are everywhere

27 FEBRUARY 2016,
A little Sloth
A little Sloth

They are everywhere. The slowest mammal in existence has found its way into countless memes and social media posts [1]. YouTube contains weeks of endearing videos of them [2]. There is even an animated movie in theaters now that features them [3]. For assorted reasons, people are displaying their fascinations with Sloths by publicizing them at an exponentially increasing rate. My time in Costa Rica has only made me more aware of this phenomenon and has led me to investigate how these unhurried creatures got so popular.

In Costa Rica, there are Sloth sanctuaries, baby Sloth petting zoos, and other places you are bound to see them. I even stayed at a Sloth-themed hostel two weeks ago. Costa Rica is ahead of the game when it comes to Sloths. As background, Sloths possess the faculties of a formidable predator. With razor sharp claws (two or three toes), their appearance suggests they are not to be tussled with. Despite these substantial claws, they are not fast enough to use them. They are reeeeeeeaaaaaalllly, reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllly, reeeeeaaaaaalllllly sllllllllllllllooooooowwwwwww-wwwwwww. Algae literally grow on their bodies. If hurrying to avoid danger, Sloths may travel up to an alarmingly gradual speed of 3-feet per minute. Although they share a name with one of the 7 deadly sins, they are not lazy. Here’s why.

Sloths eat rainforest leaves containing numerous toxins, which are taken through a ridiculously inefficient, but functional, digestion process lasting two weeks. Their 3-stomached digestive tracts break down the leaf toxins with bacteria contained in their organs and can only store small amounts of food at a time from which to derive energy. Sloths are naturally aware of this, so the goal of their existence is to expend as little energy as possible for as long as possible. In doing so, they only come down from their chosen trees at the end of their digestion cycles (every 2 weeks). Their time on the ground is used for relieving themselves and socializing with other Sloths.

The social media world’s fixation with Sloths intrigues me enough to ask “why.” What about them caught everyone’s eyes and some people’s hearts? They are not symbols of hope, freedom (See “Bald Eagle”), peace (See “Dove”), or other virtues. According to the Gospel, I mean Internet, the Sloth World experienced its Gladwellian Tipping Point when Kristen Bell had a Sloth meltdown on the Ellen Degeneres show [4].

Their harmless, welcoming demeanor should also be credited for sustaining their popularity. The related, but contrasting, Honey Badger’s fifteen minutes of fame ended as soon as current National Football League standout, Tyrann Matthieu’s, college tenure did. Sloths, however, have staying power. Why? I contend that it can be credited to the fact that humans do not fear them. If we feel anything for them, it may be that we are compelled to protect them as they have little known defense mechanisms other than being hard to see. As well, their way of not getting worked up about anything is a trait that our culture appears to admire. With all of the budding yoga studios, meditation programs, and the like, Sloths naturally act like a number of us would like to if we could better manage our stress levels. Most people I know prefer being around an unpanicked person over a stress ball.

I am interested enough in Sloths to write this article, which should show that I am comfortably seated on the Sloth bandwagon. Not to finish on a low note, but I have not seen one yet. I am still looking and preparing myself for my first personal Sloth sighting during which I hope to hold it together better than Kristen Bell did during hers.

[1] see@splurt
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba7rRfKIHxU
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY73vFGhSVk
[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5jw3T3Jy70