Baby sloth hand fed after mother's milk dries

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The Independent Online

Keepers are giving round-the-clock treatment to the latest addition to a zoo's population after her mother became ill and could not produce enough milk to feed her.

Sidone, a two-toed sloth known as Sid for short, is now enjoying life in the slow lane as she is hand-reared by keepers at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

The five-week-old baby sloth was born at the Zoo's Twilight World to mother, Light Cap, and weighed just 500g (1.1lb) at birth.

Light Cap was taken ill shortly after giving birth and had to receive veterinary treatment, after which she was no longer producing enough milk to feed her baby. But a team of keepers intervened to hand-rear Sid to save her.

The youngster, one the slowest-moving mammals in the world, is believed to be a girl, but the Zoo said sloths are very difficult to sex.

Now Sid is being looked after in a room behind the scenes of Twilight World and growing well.

Rob Rouse, overseer of mammals at Bristol Zoo, said: “As well as round-the-clock care, the baby sloth needs a lot of attention to replicate the mother’s care. We regularly brush her with a soft-bristled toothbrush to mimic the mother’s natural grooming.

“She may only be five weeks old, but she is already very strong and her curved claws are developing well, allowing her to cling on to her teddy – as she would with her mother. Eventually these claws will be what enable her to hang upside down in trees for the majority of her life.”

Sid has needed a lot of care from her keepers, including feeding every three to four hours with a combination of puppy milk formula and goat's milk and almost daily checks by the zoo's vet.

"When she was tiny, Sid needed feeding every two hours, day and night, so we took it in turns to feed her through the night," Mr Rouse added.

"It has been a real team effort as we have had to work closely with each other and with the vets to look after Sid.

"Meanwhile other keepers in the mammal team have to cover the rest of the workload while we are looking after Sid.

"Hand-rearing any animals is hard work and very tiring, particularly in the first few weeks, but seeing how well she is developing certainly makes it all worthwhile."

Sidone and her parents Light Cap and Rio are a species known as Linne's two-toed sloths, also known as the Southern two-toed sloth, and would normally be found in the treetops of the rainforests of Central and South America.

Although not currently at risk from extinction in the wild, they are being affected by habitat destruction and climate change. Bristol Zoo is part of a pan-European breeding programme for the slow-moving primates.