Hamilton

Lively sloth 'Wicket' the star of Royal Botanical Gardens' new rainforest exhibit

When is a two-toed sloth less lethargic than its name would imply? After it’s taken its only bowel movement in a week, of course.

Wicket was peppier than usual when CBC visited because he’d just had his one bowel movement for the week

Wicket the sloth is the star of the Royal Botanical Gardens' 'Under the Canopy' rainforest exhibit. (Saira Peesker/CBC)

When is a two-toed sloth less lethargic than its name would imply? After it's taken its only bowel movement in a week, of course.

Wicket the sloth, on display as part of a rainforest exhibit currently at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), was downright speedy as he swung through the branches in his display case on Wednesday.

That's normal post-poop behaviour, said handler Mercedes Pisano, noting Wicket's bowel schedule may be alarming to us but is normal for such a creature.

"They can poo a third of their body weight, which is a lot," said Pisano, part of the animal care staff at Little Ray's Nature Centre, which created the exhibit. "Usually they're very lethargic when they're coming up to go to the bathroom; when it's that time of the week. They don't move a lot because usually they're pretty bloated and heavy. Once they go to the bathroom, they are significantly lighter."

Watch Wicket the two-toed sloth roam around his enclosure

6 months ago
Duration 0:53
So much for slow as a sloth. Wicket was showing off all his moves Wednesday morning. Visitors to the RBG can check him out, along with other rainforest creatures, until May 1, 2022.

Fewer poops mean fewer reasons to leave the canopy and crawl down to the forest floor, where sloths typically do their business, but also where there are more predators.

"You can imagine a poop that large crashing through the canopy would attract a lot of attention," added Pisano, noting sloths' slower pace of life is also a survival strategy, helping them avoid detection.

With muscles made for swinging, and sometimes swimming, they're not exactly built for life on the ground, putting them at higher risk as they see to their bodily affairs, she said. 

"They can't really walk or move like we do," Pisano said. "They're mostly going to drag their bodies on the ground. It's like something out of a horror movie."

'Connections between rainforests and our own backyards'

Wicket is the star of "Under the Canopy," an exhibit which runs until May 1 at the RBG. His supporting cast includes a chameleon, a gecko, and several iguanas and tortoises, but most visitors Wednesday were clustered around the sloth enclosure, oohing and aahing.

The exhibit also contains information about threats the rainforests are facing, and information on how our behaviour can support their survival. 

The Royal Botanical Gardens' 'Under the Canopy' exhibit also features several rainforest reptiles, including this chameleon. (Saira Peesker/CBC)

"There are a lot of connections between rainforests and our own backyards," Jennifer Dick, the RBG's manager of interpretation, told CBC Hamilton.

She noted that many migratory birds that spend time in Southern Ontario – including orioles and hummingbirds – spend part of the year in rainforests, so work here to preserve those birds' habitats affects rainforest equilibrium. There are also dietary choices people can make to prevent rainforest destruction, she added.

"The coffee that you drink comes from areas with rainforests, so which coffee you choose to drink can have a positive impact. Buying shade-grown coffee helps protect habitat for these animals."

The exhibit is the RBG's first major indoor event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it was planned two years in advance, Dick said. Following the exhibit's end, the creatures will return to their homes at Little Ray's in Hamilton, which is also open to the public.

A 'grumpus' who likes a lot of alone time

Wicket, a Linnaeus's Two-Toed Sloth, is three years old and was born at a sloth zoo in Florida. Unlike many of Little Ray's' charges, who come from rescue situations, Wicket and several other sloths were acquired by Little Ray's as purposeful additions to the organization's collection, said Pisano.

While known for being a "grumpus" and a little antisocial, Wicket was moving around his enclosure more than usual when CBC visited. (Saira Peesker/CBC)

"He wasn't taken from the wild, and wasn't anybody's pet," she said. "Sloths don't make good pets. They are fairly sensitive and can have difficult temperaments."

The creatures like temperatures of about 28 degrees Celsius with 60 to 70 per cent humidity, so those lucky enough to go inside Wicket's enclosure are blasted with steamy air.  The pen is kept fairly dark, to mimic the canopy's shade.

At Little Ray's, Wicket is known for spending a lot of time sleeping, and for being somewhat of a loner and a "grumpus," says Pisano. There is someone whose company he is always drawn to, though: his "girlfriend" and roommate Olive, known as the more gregarious of the two sloths. 

"They seem to really like each other," she said. "Wicket will actually follow her around."

Lucky Little Ray's visitors can sometimes observe the two creatures cuddling, which for sloths, looks a lot like spooning.

"It's mostly kind of laying next to each other, sometimes with an arm thrown over the other," Pisano said. "Sometimes their heads will be facing each other [and] sometimes they will be climbing and their noses will just touch. It's pretty adorable."

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