Every time you’re on social media these days, chances are you’ll stumble across a new, cute meme or video of a sloth.
These mammals were named after the sin of sloth, as they are seemingly slow-moving and lazy. But you can think of them as simply “energy-efficient” — sloths move slowly because they’ve adapted metabolically to conserve energy. They can move much quicker when confronted with predators.
Sloths have been slowly edging into exotic pet territory, along with hedgehogs and even alligators. But we need to ask ourselves the same question every time we’re confronted with a new species of “exotic pet”: Do these animals really make good pets?
Every state has its own set of laws regarding what types of animals can be kept as pets. For example, Alabama says nothing about needing permission to keep a sloth, but New Hampshire considers it a “controlled species” –and you need a permit to keep one.
On top of state laws, there may also be county and municipal laws revolving around what you can and cannot keep in a certain area. Check with local and state authorities thoroughly before considering bringing a sloth home.
The sloth has adapted to a specific type of environment. “Sloths live only in parts of Central America and South America,” says Sara Swan Miller in Sloths. “They hang high in the trees in the warm, wet rain forests. Sloths have a very low body temperature. They cannot stand the cold.”
Were you to bring a sloth home, you would have to spend a considerable amount of money recreating a comfortable habitat for your sloth. You’d need warmth, humidity and high trees for him to climb and hang from, as sloths spend the majority of their lives hanging from tree limbs.
In addition, if your state has regular cold weather, you’d also need a plan to keep your sloth warm in the event of a power interruption.
Sloths are mainly herbivores. According to Benita Sen in Rainforest Creatures, “They prefer to eat fresh and young leaves, but also feed on fruits and shoots.” Some sloths do partake in other fare, such as eggs, insects and small lizards, as well.
Almost everything about these mammals is slow — including their digestive system. Their stomach is divided into 4 parts and uses bacteria to aid with digestion, but it takes a while — sometimes almost a month to digest 1 meal.
Because sloths come from such a specialized environment, it’s unlikely you’d be able to go grab some leaves off a nearby oak tree and hand them over. Sloths need to eat plants indigenous to their native habitat to get the maximum amount of nutrition.
Sloths tend to be fairly solitary creatures. Males can usually be found alone, while females will occasionally live together. During mating season, a female sloth will let loose screams that let males in the area know she is — ahem — available.
This may not be something that’s entirely pleasant to listen to at 3 a.m.
The large, non-retractable claws a sloth carries leave him essentially disabled on the ground, which is why he usually remains in the trees.
However, these claws are sharp enough for the sloth to defend himself against natural predators such as the jaguar or ocelot. Should a sloth be riled enough with you – or a cage mate – he could certainly inflict significant damage.
Check out this sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica:
Do Sloths Make Good Pets?
“They require a specialized diet, a constantly warm and humid environment, and need to spend a lot of time suspended from high branches,” captive wildlife specialist Lisa Wathne tells National Geographic. “Even so, sloths are a new ‘fad’ pet, and continue to be obtained through illegal animal trafficking.”
If your heart is set on a sloth, I encourage you to learn more about this animal before considering bringing one into your home. Sloths have specifically adapted to their rain forest homes, and it would be very difficult for you to recreate that in a typical household.
It may be better to head down to your local shelter and adopt an animal in need — she is sure to love you dearly and may just be easier to care for.