Tuesday, April 12
April 29, 2015 was just a normal Wednesday for most people, but for me it was a day I will always remember and one of the best of my zookeeping career. While I was doing the morning check of the sloth building, I noticed that Bonnie was sitting in a slightly different position. Wanting to make sure she was okay, I got a ladder and entered her habitat and climbed to her shelf to check on her. As I got to the top, I saw a small arm and two small claws holding tightly onto Bonnie, and I realized the little sloth that would later be known as Raisin had finally arrived!
Raisin is the first infant sloth I have worked with, and she is also special because she is also the result of years of my hard work. In addition to being a zookeeper, I am also the coordinator for the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for two-toed sloths. This means that I coordinate the population of two-toed sloths in zoos all across North America—that’s over 200 sloths in over 70 zoos! An important part of an SSP is making breeding recommendations to maximize genetic diversity and keep the population healthy. Breeding recommendations are made based on genetics and pedigree analysis. One of the recommendations we made when doing the plan was for male sloth Cocoa (who lived at a zoo in California at the time) to breed with female sloths Okra and Bonnie. Cocoa arrived in 2014 and fortunately, he got along great with both girls and resulted in Bonnie having Raisin!
Raisin has been growing like a weed and meeting all her developmental milestones! She started tasting Bonnie’s food at about a week old and since then, has been consuming more and more vegetables, fruits and lettuce but is also still nursing from Bonnie (sloths can nurse for up to a year). She started to touch branches near Bonnie and gradually began climbing on her own more and more and venturing further from Bonnie.
Even though Bonnie is a first-time mom, she is doing an excellent job! She is very attentive to Raisin and licks her to clean her and makes sure she is safe when she climbs. She carries Raisin even now when Raisin is large and agile enough to climb on her own. If she climbs away without Raisin, she stops and goes back for her – making sure Raisin is coming and she is willing to let Raisin hop on for a ride.
Some of the best moments have been watching Raisin try and play with Bonnie, which Bonnie was not very keen on doing. Raisin would try and wrestle with Bonnie’s feet and would become active and climb around above Bonnie’s head, swatting at her gently to try and get a reaction. Bonnie would tolerate it for a while, then she would gently raise one of her arms and gently pull Raisin back down to her chest and seemed to be encouraging her to take a nap.
Sloths stay with their mothers for 10-13 months, so we have been monitoring Bonnie and Raisin closely to see how Raisin transitions to being more independent. In the last few months, we have observed Raisin sitting next to Bonnie on the shelf instead of on her stomach, but Bonnie still carried Raisin when she traveled. Lately, though, we have started to observe Raisin sleeping on a separate shelf from Bonnie and traveling more on her own – which is another sign she is growing up. Raisin will continue to become more and more independent from Bonnie and will eventually transition to living completely on her own.
I can’t believe Raisin is almost a year old! The year has flown by, but watching her grow and develop has been amazing to watch! It seems like only yesterday that we were so excited the first time we saw her nursing and then tasting her first solid food (sweet potato) and watching her climb on her own. At times now, she seems like a full-grown adult, but at other times I still catch her trying to play with Bonnie and see that she still is a juvenile and has some maturing to do.
Senior Keeper, Primates