Pygmy three-toed sloth conservation

Pygmy sloth

Sloths used to be elephant-sized giants that roamed the earth alongside other prehistoric animals. Now we are protecting a group of the world's smallest sloth species living on the uninhabited Escudo in Panama. A team of conservationists from ZSL are surveying the pygmy three-toed sloth on Escudo Island to build the first picture of how these little-known animals are faring.

Why the project is important

At half the size of their mainland cousins, and weighing roughly the same as a newborn baby, pygmy sloths are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world. The pygmy sloth was only described scientifically in 2001, and it lives only on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a tiny island of less than 4.3km², located 17 km northeast of Bocas del Toro in Panama. They are ranked at number 16 on the EDGE of Existence Mammals List and are Critically Endangered: current data suggests that there are fewer than 500 pygmy sloths left on the island, but the figure could even be fewer than 100 animals.

Key achievements and goals

To date, ZSL has carried out several expeditions to Escudo Island, 17km off the coast of Panama, which is the only place in the world where the sloths are found. This included a comprehensive population and habitat survey of the area, and monitoring of the sloth’s unique behaviours. This project continues to build conservation capacity in Panama through an EDGE Fellow, Dr Diorene Smith, with the additional aims of working with local communities to establish a participatory conservation strategy for the pygmy sloth that involves all stakeholders.

Project information

Key species

Pygmy 3-toed sloth

Critically Endangered,

Habitat restricted to Isla Escudo de Veraguas (<4.3km²)

People involved

  • Nisha Owen is currently managing the pygmy sloth project
  • Diorene Smith Cabellos is the EDGE Fellow on the project

Partners and sponsors

Kindly funded by:

  1. Disney Conservation Fund
  2. Mohammed bin Zayed Species Fund
  3. People's Trust for Endangered Species
  4. Royal Geographical Society
  5. British Ecological Society
  6. John Ball Zoo Society
  7. USFWS - Critically Endangered Species
  8. Prince Bernhard Fund for Nature