CINCINNATI, OH (February 24, 2021) — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden announced live on Facebook earlier today that its two-toed sloths, Moe and Lightning, are expecting a baby! It wasn’t love at first sight, but the pair warmed up to each other and couldn’t stay six feet apart during the pandemic. As a result, the Zoo will welcome the first sloth ever to be born at the Zoo and the first offspring for this pair.
“We are so excited that Lightning is pregnant! The sloth animal care team has been on this journey since 2016 and now we are so pleased to bring our sloth fans along for the rest of the ride and into this new baby’s life.” said Cincinnati Zoo’s interpretive animal team leader Sarah Swanson. “Patience is a must when you work with sloths! They have a 10-month gestation period, and we’re only through the first trimester.”
The courtship also took a long time. Eight-year-old Lightning came to Cincinnati in 2019 on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP) and was introduced to 21-year-old Moe in December of that year. It wasn’t love at first sight, but the pair warmed up to each other and couldn’t stay six feet apart during the pandemic. They hang together most of the time.
The sloth pup is expected to arrive in September or October. Last week’s ultrasound showed a head, spine, arms, legs, and a heartbeat. The care team will continue to monitor Lightning and will perform regular ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy.
“We are always cautiously optimistic with first-time moms, but we are fairly confident that Lightning’s assertive personality will lend well to being a first-time mom,” said Swanson. “She will do most of the work once the baby is born. It will latch on to her and stay attached for the next 10-12 months. Dad’s contribution is genetics.”
Moe was orphaned in the wild as a young sloth and brought into human care to survive. He has been an ambassador for his species, here in Cincinnati, since 2006. The SSP recognizes that his genetics are very valuable, being directly from the wild. To maintain or increase genetic diversity in the SSP population, ‘founder’ animals like Moe are extremely important.
This sloth species (Linne’s two-toed sloth) is not considered endangered but is becoming increasingly vulnerable due to human encroachment and activity. Funds generated through Cincinnati Zoo’s private sloth encounters are used to care for Moe and Lightning and to support conservation partner The Sloth Institute and its efforts to protect sloths in the Costa Rican Rainforest.
There is no set viewing schedule for sloths at this time, but opportunities will be posted on cincinnatizoo.org. The Cincinnati Zoo opens daily at 10 a.m. Zoo admission is discounted through March 12. Reservations are required and masks must be worn while at the Zoo.