Meeting Beertje with his finders, 2014
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a Dutch woman, Wynne, who came to Suriname to work as a schoolteacher deep in the jungle. In Paramaribo, she met Monique Pool and her sloths and anteaters and became a dedicated volunteer, as has happened to so many other people once they had met their first sloth. I know this, for this woman is me. And I would like to tell my story of Beertje, one of GHFS’s rescued animals, as our lives got entwined at this rescue center.
One day, 5 September 2014, GHFS got a call from a family in Meerzorg, at the eastern bank of the Suriname river. A 2-fingered sloth baby had been found. Yvonne, GHFS’ long term and completely dedicated surrogate sloth-mom set out for the rescue, together with me. That’s when we met Beertje. ‘Beertje’ means ‘small bear’ in Dutch, the name given to him by the family that had found him. And that was exactly what he looked like. Cute, round, soft and with fangs that he knew how to use! The little boy of this family had found him on the soccer field and wanted to keep him as a pet. Beertje’s mom had probably been killed. But as Beertje refused all food, the boy’s parents decided that he would be better off with GHFS. And thus Beertje started his life at GHFS, which was located in town then. He never got to like the goat milk, but he liked his apples, pumpkin and rice. And he thrived. But he was a lonely orphan, as he had only his stuffed toy to cling to as a surrogate mom and occasional human caretakers with his food.
Enters Wimpy in this story. Wimpy was an old male 3-fingered sloth. Miraculously, he was found at Monique’s parents house in town! Monique transferred him to her own house, aka the GHFS rescue center, and put him in an outdoor cage for observation. Beertje was occasionally put into this same cage so he could try his climbing skills. Then, to our surprise, Beertje was gone. Nowhere to be found in a not so big a cage! Until he was found clinging to Wimpy’s belly, who had curled himself into a ball for a nap! A 2-fingered sloth baby, adopted by a 3-fingered male sloth. The baby’s urge to cling to a living creature was greater than his fear for the unknown. And the old guy was as gentle as only a 3-fingered sloth can be. Thus started a happy period in Beertje’s life, save in Wimpy’s care. Wimpy would be given a few hours off care each day, when he would eat his leaves, while nocturnal Beertje would sleep with the stuffed toy. Within months, Beertje outgrew his stepfather. And yet Wimpy did not refuse to carry him around. Until a sad morning, when Wimpy was found weak and dying of old age... Beertje was on his own again.
Beertje grew and grew, while his fur turned from dark brown into blond long hairs. From pup size, he was now of average dog size. He would sleep during the day and stroll around the cage during the night. Waiting for the opening of the new sloth rehabilitation center in Saramacca, far away from the urban environment, where he could start his soft release into the forest. Mid 2017 was the moment. Beertje moved into his jungle environment, together will all other sloths and anteaters then taken care of by GHFS. He was placed inside a new enclosure with his favourite food nearby and the door wide open. The jungle was all around him. But he did not move. Most other sloths and anteaters chose the jungle life after a little adjustment time. But Beertje still lived his lazy life inside the open cage. Had he become a pet, with no urge for jungle life?
Enters Wynne again. This January, I came back to Suriname to see the new Sloth Wellness Center for myself and finish the work on the education section. All sloths I had known before in town, had by then walked off, into the jungle. But after months, Beertje was still there. Why would he not leave? Inside the cage, he moved by hanging from branches and ropes. In order to go outside and into the nearest tree, he only had to cross 1 meter of ground space. Psychological barrier? ‘Floor is danger, rope is safe way?’ So I decided to make life even easier for Beertje. A rope was added, out of the door and into the tree. And then it happened. Before night fall, Beertje had taken his first steps outside, and up into the tree!
The next morning, he was soaken wet because of the rain and hanging from a thin tree bending over because of his weight, with no exit to another tree. Life in the jungle was not so easy after all. It took another rope to create an escape route to lead him out of that embarrassing position. The following days, Beertje was seen napping and eating high up in the trees surrounding his cage. Would he take up permanent residence there, as a few 3-fingered sloths had done? It has been a week now, since we last saw Beertje. He has chosen a jungle life after all. Beertje and I met at GHFS and now we both have moved on. GHFS’ volunteers will miss him, but more than that, we are happy. After all, wild animals belong in the wild.
Beertje clinging to his foster father Wimpy
Beertje finally outside his cage!
Beertje out in the jungle!