Moe the Sloth’s Habitat Transformation: Building Bridges Here and in the Wild

Posted February 22, 2019
Moe, the two-toed sloth (Photo: Mark Dumont)
Moe, the two-toed sloth (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Guest blogger: Hannah Mason, Special Projects Volunteer

Renovations are underway to give your favorite Cincinnati sloth more home to roam.

Moe the Linne’s two-toed sloth is on the move. You probably remember visiting him in his treetop habitat in the Discovery Forest. If you’ve stopped by to see him recently, you may have noticed that he’s behind the scenes while his new home is under construction. Between now and April, his habitat is undergoing a transformation to give Moe more space and–hopefully–the chance for the Zoo’s sloth family to grow.

More Home to Roam

According to Sarah Swanson, Team Leader of Interpretive Collection, “Moe’s habitat upgrade is part of an ongoing effort to give all animals more home to roam and more opportunities to exhibit natural behaviors.”

Sloth habitat undergoing renovation (Photo: Shasta Bray)
Sloth habitat undergoing renovation (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Moe’s new habitat will consist of new artificial trees and a platform connected by a highway of rope bridges, giving Moe the opportunity to climb overhead from tree-to-tree, traveling upside-down and up to 40 feet per hour. The trees also feature cooling, heating, and resting stations to help mimic the sloth’s native rainforest climate.

Not only will you now be able to see Moe climbing across rope bridges above your head as you walk through the Discovery Forest, you may also see him touch base on the ground. One artificial tree will be designed so that Moe can climb all the way down into a cozy, private area on the ground surrounded by three stone walls and one glass wall. In the wild, sloths spend most of their lives in trees but journey to the ground to urinate and defecate, a behavior which also serves the ecological purpose of fertilizing the plants on the forest floor. Moe will now have a protected area to exhibit this natural behavior.

A Future Baby Moe?

As an added bonus, all the extra space means the Zoo now has enough room to potentially acquire a second sloth. A mate for Moe, perhaps?

Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)
Moe (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Two-toed sloths are part of the AZA’s SSP program,” Swanson explains. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) is set up by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure species like the two-toed sloth continue to build populations in zoos. Moe has “founder genetics,” meaning he hasn’t been bred before and his genes are unrepresented in the AZA population of sloths.

What does this mean? “Hopefully, Moe will get a breeding recommendation this year,” Swanson says. “It’s all according to a genetic analysis. It’s an ongoing goal for the Zoo to breed sloths.”

In fact, that’s Swanson’s number one goal for Moe this year: “I hope Moe gets a girlfriend this year, and that the match is compatible!” she says.

Building Bridges in Costa Rica

Moe’s new habitat not only gives him more space and provides the opportunity for him to get a girlfriend, but those new rope bridges also help build bridges with the Zoo’s partners in Costa Rica.

The Zoo has been partnering with the Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI) since 2014, when TSI’s founder Sam Trull came to the Zoo to give a lecture. “2014 is also the year Sam Trull founded TSI,” Swanson says. “She had been working in other rehabilitation centers before that and just saw this great need to help sloths in particular. She met Moe, and we got to talking, and we realized our department wanted to be involved in in-situ conservation. Since then, we have built a wonderful relationship with them.”

What does TSI do for sloths? In the rainforest of Costa Rica, wild animals like sloths have to live side-by-side with human settlements. In recent years, an upswing of tourists visiting the rainforest from around the world has brought an even greater increase in human infrastructure development close to the habitat where sloths live. Roads, bridges, and powerlines bisect or even destroy sections of wildlife habitat. Not only that, they are extremely dangerous for sloths, monkeys, and other animals that try to cross them, posing risks for injury by car, feral dogs, or even electrocution from the uninsulated powerlines common in Central American countries.

That’s where TSI comes in.

“They build simple rope ‘highways’ from one tree to another,” Swanson says, “creating a safe path for sloths to cross without having to climb down to the ground.” TSI is also dedicated to caring for orphaned and injured sloths, as well.

Whenever you see Moe hanging out on his new rope bridges above the Discover Forest path, remember his friends in Costa Rica and the work TSI is doing to give them more home to roam, too!

Part of the Zoo’s partnership with TSI involves keepers like Swanson visiting their facilities once a year to check out the rehabilitation, research, and other conservation projects they have going on. The other part involves the Zoo’s support of TSI through donations. You can find out more information about the work that TSI is doing here.

Want to Save Sloths in the Wild? Take a Tour

Meet Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)
Meet Moe (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Supporting TSI and its mission to increase peaceful coexistence between wildlife and Costa Rican communities is as fun and easy as signing up for a private encounter with Moe once he’s in his new home! Part of the proceeds from each behind-the-scenes encounter with Moe goes to TSI.

During the tour, you’ll get the chance to hang out with Moe and his keeper up close, take as many photos as you want, and watch snack time! What’s Moe like up-close? “My favorite thing about Moe,” Swanson says, “is that he doesn’t have a care in the world. He does everything on his own terms and marches to the beat of his own drum.”

Every Cincinnatian’s favorite sloth will also celebrate his 20th birthday this summer. According to Swanson, sloths in zoos can live to be in their forties, so Moe’s middle-aged.

This year, you can sign up for sloth tours between May and November (Moe needs a little extra time to get used to his new home before he starts inviting visitors). Find more information on sloth encounters and book your tour here.