Sanctuary helps Suriname's sloths back to jungle

by Stg Green Heritage Fund Suriname Vetted since 2015 Top Ranked Effective Nonprofit
Meeting Beertje with his finders, 2014
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 clinging to his foster father Wimpy
Beertje finally outside his cage!
Beertje finally outside his cage!
Beertje out in the jungle!
Beertje out in the jungle!
Igor enjoying some termites
Igor enjoying some termites

Xenarthra

Sloths, anteaters and armadillos are all in the Superorder of the Xenarthra. And although we rescue, rehabilitate and release mostly sloths, we do get the occassional anteater to care for. Since February we have been caring for a lesser anteater baby, now a juvenile, by the name of Johannes. For the purpose of housing giant anteaters our partner Welttierschutzgesellschaft provided us with the means to build an enclosure that should allow our temporary residents to roam as if they are in a forest, where they can become habituated to living independently. The enclosure would have a special double door and lock gate, so that the animals can be taken care of without too much trouble. The size is approximately 30 by 10 meters, and has an organic shape, adjusting to the available space and avoiding the need to remove trees.

The enclosure has been used to house young Johannes, a lesser anteater, providing an extra barrier between him and humans, so that he does not become too used to us, and allowing him to roam freely. Johannes has become a tree-dwelling animal that we encounter from time to time at night. He sometimes visits and sleeps in the hammock in his enclosure, where we still regularly leave anteater mix for him to eat. His door is always open, so he is free to come and go, and we often see him sleeping high up in the trees. We are now confident that he is capable of living on his own.

Igor, the Giant anteater

Igor, a giant anteater, has also used the enclosure. He was in the hands of a “legal” wildlife trafficker with a permit to export four giant anteaters (and no, we could not believe it either!). An associate of the wildlife trafficker called one of the veterinarians we work with, because one of the animals had diarrhea. Cleopatra went to see what was going on, and told this man that she wanted to take the animal with her, because it needed an IV and intensive care. While at his location, she saw that there were three other animals, one of which was wounded on his front right leg. Arranging the transportation of the sick animal was not so easy, and was delayed because we had trouble coordinatimg a rescue with the wildlife trafficker. When we finally arrived at his location, two days after Cleopatra first went there, the animal had already died. We took the animal with us and had a necropsy performed in the presence of a game warden.

Cleopatra arranged for the wounded animal to be released to us as well. She and the wildlife trafficker agreed that he would sign a release that he had voluntarily given the animal to us, and that he knew we were not going to return it to him. Igor arrived at the center on the 5th of October. He was very stressed and could not at first find his way out of the lock into the enclosure. Cleopatra decided after a while to go in with the animal and guide him into the larger area; he was definitely more afraid than aggressive. During the four weeks Igor received treatment for his wounds, he roamed the grounds where Johannes was housed. Johannes was not always pleased with this intruder, but Igor clearly either ignored him, or gave him a friendly slap when he became too annoying.

At the end of October, Cleopatra observed that Igor’s wounds had healed very well and she told us that he could be released. Providing the animal with termite nests had become increasingly difficult because the nests were becoming scarce near the center. 

So, on the 4th of November we borrowed a transport bench from the Animal Protection Society, and made an agreement with our friends from Apartments Bloemendaal to release the animal, with their help, on the uninhabited side of the Saramacca River. The last arrangements were made on Saturday night, when we decided we would try to lure Igor into the bench with a termite nest, then take him to the boat between 10 and 12 o’clock on Sunday morning. Astrid, veterinary doctor in Saramacca, decided to come and assist us, and several tourists arrived quite unexpectedly. We were a bit skeptical about the crowd, but we made the best of it, and they actually helped us carry the bench holding Igor.

The animal was a bit stressed by the experience, but then again also very interested in his termite nest. He continued eating for most of the 10-minute drive to Apartments Bloemendaal. Anteaters are very sensitive to sound, however, and the boat’s motor seemed to stress him more than the presence of humans. The moment the motor was switched off he resumed licking up termites. We cruised for approximately 20 minutes, searching for a hard bank where we could put the bench and let Igor go. We found a beautiful spot, and he seemed curious as to what was happening. As soon as we had the bench stable on the bank, we opened the door. Igor walked out at a leisurely pace but quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. He did not hesitate for one second, and also did not look back to say goodbye ( :) )

We hope that in the future any other wild animals that need to recover in this forest enclosure will be as successful as Igor.

Help us achieve our 2017 goal by making an end-of-year donation

We once more ask your support to help us finish our shelter location by specifically making a donation on this Giving Tuesday, the 28th of November, or until the end of the year to our project. This will certainly help bringing us closer to achieving our goal of making our center operational.

 

Sleeping Lesser anteater Johannes
Sleeping Lesser anteater Johannes

Links:

The 3 babies are transported to their incubators
The 3 babies are transported to their incubators

Timmie was found two days ago by Mr. Sabajo in a secondary forest. He heard the animal before he saw it. Timmie is very good at whistling like a good ventriloquist. When he found this baby, Mr. Sabajo noticed that the animal’s nails were filed. Which means that someone must have left the animal in the forest. Because normally baby sloths have very sharp nails. One can only wonder about why someone first kidnaps the animal from his mother, and then leaves it alone in the forest to die. Yes, to die, because Timmie is not more than 4 months old, and will not be able to survive on his own yet. Timmie especially whistles while he is eating. This is either a sign that he is happy and whistles when he eats, or it may also be a strategy to stay in touch with his mother while he is eating away from her. From our experience, we noticed that the little ones will climb themselves to eat leaves while their mothers may be resting. And then join her again when they have finished their small adventure. At around 8 months, the mothers leave their babies to fend for themselves. We now have 3 babies at the center who go into their incubators at night. And hopefully we can run these incubators as of next week powered by the sun!

We moved…

Yes we did, even though the center is mostly an empty shell. We are managing without electricity, but hopefully that problem will have been solved by end of next week. The animals do not need much in terms of furniture, the trees are their furniture. It is for the animals that need care that we need to get our center properly outfitted. We will do this as funding becomes available. Two of our volunteers are looking into how our intensive care unit can be made into just that. The 20-foot container is very hot because the sun is relentlessly shining on it from different angles during the day. The first solution will be to paint the container white. The second solution will be to insulate the container by constructing a double wall. We are now awaiting further details of how we can as quickly as possible make this unit ready, so that we can receive animals, like Inke, that need extra care in a proper environment.

Meet Inke…

Inke was reported to us over the weekend by shop-owner Inke, who had previously rescued animals for us from people that came into her shop with a sloth. This time, she saw a person entering her shop with a sloth, and she immediately addressed this woman, and told her she had to leave the animal with her, and otherwise she would not leave her shop. Fortunately, as none of our own volunteers was available, Mariska from the dog shelter drove out to the shop to take the animal and bring it to one of our volunteers. On Monday, the animal that was traumatized as a result of claw cutting, was transferred to the center. She is now eating and drinking her rescue drops, and slowly healing from her trauma.

These are only two stories of animals that we recently rescued from unfortunate situations. We rescued and released animals throughout the transition period in which we moved. One from the waiting area at the penitentiary facility, another from some boys that were harassing an animal. Please follow our facebook, instagram and website for more stories about our work.

We appreciate every new recurring donation, as especially now this is what we most need to keep us going.

Inke traumatized by people who cut her claws
Inke traumatized by people who cut her claws
Sloth at the penitentiary facility
Sloth at the penitentiary facility
Sloth entangled in hammock and ropes
Sloth entangled in hammock and ropes
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P1180306.JPG
Anteater baby Johannes
Early March Johannes had only just arrived, and we were uncertain about how he would fare. We are happy to report to you that Johannes has outgrown his incubator and is doing well. His weight is nearing 2 kilograms and his fur has grown much longer. And he is becoming more and more the juvenile that any mom can proudly let go off one fine day. In the early morning hours, when these nocturnal animals are active, Johannes loves to eat his special milk mix, and more of it each day as well. After providing him with some infant formula for the first 8 weeks, we started adding some adult food to his milk. He likes the new food so much, that he refuses to eat infant formula that is not mixed with the more protein-rich adult mix. Johannes likes to play with his caregiver after feeding. With his small claws he tries to knead the fingers of caregiver Yvonne, but never hurts her with his small sharp claws. One game Johannes likes playing is "Attack". Like adult anteaters who are threatened, he will stand on his hindlegs with his arms and claws in the air, waiting to pounce when you come near. Although a wild adult anteater can severely hurt a human by doing this, as they are incredibly strong and fast, it is clear that Johannes is only practicing. He pounces and then rolls about, but never hurts any of us. 
We are confident that when Johannes moves to the center and our anteater release volunteer Duncan starts working with him, his attack skills will help him survive in the wild. And he will know how to distinguish between a real threat, and play. He has also been given the opportunity to work on his termite hunting skills with the nests that we provided him with from time to time.  
What to do if your claws are cut
We have several animals, three-fingered sloths, in our care that had unfortunate encounters with humans that cut their claws. These three-fingered sloths do not only need their claws for climbing, but more importantly for cleaning their fur. If they cannot properly clean their fur, they are more prone to parasites. Unfortunately, one of these animals had a parasite, that caused a growth on the skin, and which spread very rapidly among them. We were faced with some five animals that suddenly looked like they all had warts. Treating these warts on a regular basis, like three-times a day, with a simple remedy like coconut oil helped to get rid of the wart-like growths. But with the disappearance of these growths they suddenly developed bald spots. Good news is that although slowly, their hairs are now starting to grow back. And we seem to have the parasite under control with this simple remedy which has them all smelling of coconut oil. Humans often do cruel things like they did to these sloths, thinking the sloths are only using the claws to defend themselves and hurt others. In their ignorance they do not realize how important healthy claws are for these animals to keep a clean and healthy skin.
Counting the days until we move...
As you can read in our recent project report we have almost completed the building and will move at the end of this month, because we have to. And we remain optimistic about indeed doing this and succeeding in moving all animals without to much trouble. We have regular updates on our instagram or facebook account.

Monique Pool
Director
Picture 1: Feeding Johannes next to his incubator
Picture 2: Johannes exploring his old home that he has outgrown
Picture 3: After feeding it is time to play
Picture 4: Naomi with a bald spot where the wart-like growth had been
Picture 5: With cut claws Stoney has a hard time properly grooming
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P1180317.JPG
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P1180358.JPG
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P1180461.JPG
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P1180466.JPG
Malunde
Malunde's release picture

Construction and Moving

The sloths definitely feel that something is in the air (follow The Move). After we heard in the first week of the year that the landlord wanted to have his house back, and now suddenly had a fixed deadline, we started planning. And thus the sloths must notice that something is strange, since their usual environment is changing slowly as we have started packing things in boxes. Construction is no longer moving forward at a sloth’s pace. Rapidly containers are being finished, put in place, beams are erected and floors laid. Every time we turn up at Misgunst to release sloths, we see a completely changed Sloth Wellness Center, we see our dreams materializing. And we hope the surrounding lush green trees and this center will also fulfill the dreams of the sloths. However, we still have not achieved our funding goal, despite a generous donation by Dutch Postcodeloterij. 

Rescues and Releases

As always we have had many rescues and releases since our last report to you. Volunteer Wynne who has been one of the forces behind the realization of the Sloth Wellness Center had hardly arrived back from abroad when a rescue call came. So we jumped into the sloth rescue van to find a sloth clinging onto the back of a cabin of a pick-up truck. The animal was healthy and we took him with us, after I explained, using the rescue van image, the work we are doing to the son of the person who had reported the animal. Although not all of our rescues ended in successful releases we feel reasonably satisfied with what we achieved over the past months. It is hard to recognize that we cannot save all of them, because we are not always receiving animals in perfect health due to acts by humans or their dogs. But our desire to really save animals is so strong that despite the setbacks of loosing some of our rescue animals as they pass on, we remain resolved to continue to do the best we can. The first rescued sloth of 2017, succumbed to his internal lesions caused by a dog attack. We all felt very sad around this episode and such a start of our new year. But more recently things have been going much better.

Malunde

One thing that really made my day was my encounter with Malunde, a six-year old boy from Sweden, who really knows how to draw. On a holiday from Sweden, he came with his mother and sister on a release, and within 5 minutes after witnessing the release he finished a drawing of what he had seen. Malunde will not ever need a camera. His mother recently wrote to me: “Such a fantastic experience! Malunde says that he one day wants to be like you, and help animals in need.” I am sure that with a talent like he has, he will succeed in that.

Johannes

A new phase in care was achieved recently when we received our new incubators that we received from our partner Welttierschutzgesellschaft so we could provide better care to infants. And the universe had the arrival of the incubators coincide with the arrival of Johannes an infant anteater. Johannes’ mother had been shot by hunters and the most essential thing he needed was TLC from us, and a stable warm environment. He had an abscess and with the help from anteater expert Roberto and our own vet Audrey, he received treatment and has been stable ever since. Please follow our facebook page or instagram for updates on how Johannes is doing.

With our first report in 2017 to you, we want to thank you for all your support throughout 2016 and cannot wait to welcome you in our Sloth Wellness Center soon.

Sloth holding on to pickup cabin
Sloth holding on to pickup cabin
Monique explaining the work we do
Monique explaining the work we do
No time to waste; "I
No time to waste; "I'm out of here"
Some sloths simply cannot wait to start eating
Some sloths simply cannot wait to start eating

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Organization Information

Stg Green Heritage Fund Suriname

Location: Paramaribo - Suriname
Website: http:/​/​greenfundsuriname.org/​en/​
Project Leader:
Wynne Minkes
Paramaribo, Suriname
$24,848 raised of $30,000 goal
 
451 donations
$5,152 to go
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