I can’t recall how we discovered the Too Cute Sloth series of Animal Planet videos last year, but once we saw them, Camille was smitten. We watched them over and over, marveling at how adorable and silly and playful and cute the sloths were. She watched one video in particular so often that she memorized the voiceover and would say it along with the narrator. We got her a stuffed sloth toy and she sleeps with it nearly every night. Camille has a book about these sloths, and knows many of them by name and can spout off an impressive array of sloth facts to anyone willing to listen.
The video series was shot at The Sloth Sanctuary here in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was started by a woman named Judy, an Alaskan native who relocated here with her husband to run a riverboat tour business. Some neighbor children brought her an orphaned sloth some 20 years ago, a little baby that she named Buttercup. She inquired at the zoo, she asked the locals – no one knew where it could be taken for safety and care. No one knew much of anything about sloths.
So Miss Judy kept Buttercup. And a year later, someone found another injured sloth and brought it to Miss Judy. And then another. And now her sanctuary has more than 100 sloths on property. They rehabilitate and release the ones that can survive, but many have injuries too severe, or lack the critical knowledge they would have received from their mothers about what is safe to eat in the wild.
Unfortunately for us, The Sloth Sanctuary is on the opposite coast, which meant bisecting the country in order to see these creatures. But it was simply mandatory. So Monday, we left the volcano and headed toward the beach, but this time to the Caribbean coast.
The Sanctuary is also a small bed and breakfast, and we’d booked one of the rooms. Most of the sloths are kept in areas away from public view unless you’re on a tour, and our tour was scheduled for the next morning. But we decided to walk around and explore the common areas anyway.
And at the top of a flight of stairs to the dining area, we saw her. Queen Buttercup, atop her wicker throne. Snoozing in her slothful way. The sloth who started it all.
We were ecstatic. We jumped up and down and whispered excitedly to each other, trying not to disturb her but being so utterly thrilled. Queen Buttercup lifted her head and eyed us for a while, curious about these whispering, jumping creatures in front of her. It was like seeing Taylor Swift – we were that excited. No, it was better than seeing Taylor Swift. It was QUEEN BUTTERCUP. The sloth we’d loved and admired from afar, in front of us at last. I wanted to hug her and take her to our room for a sloth slumber party, but instead settled for a thousand photographs.
Tuesday morning, our breakfast was served with a decorative hibiscus on the edge of our plates. Hibiscus are actually a favorite food of the sloths – something Camille learned from her sloth book. Camille, feeling especially slothy, ate her hibiscus. And mine. And Lee’s. “They taste like nothing!” she said.
Our tour began with a riverboat ride through the jungle. Our canoe passed quietly through the water, and as we floated under a fallen tree, I was startled to see a bat fly over my head. Underneath the tree, cuddled together in a hollow space, were three bats, less than 12 inches from my face. Good thing we all like bats.
We saw birds, and we stopped for a while underneath banana tree as a howler monkey ate his breakfast. It was a nice ride, but we were eager for the main attraction.
Finally, our tour guide took us into one of the buildings where they house some adult sloths. And there was Millie, a precious light-haired sloth, snoozing in her own wicker chair.
Our guide, Jeff (who is also Miss Judy’s grandson), gently woke Mille up and pulled her arms to his shoulders. She clung to him like a tree.
Would we get to touch her? I wanted to so badly!
And yes, Jeff invited us to come closer and feel her silky hair. Millie swiveled her head all around, sweetly watching us as we petted her and cooed over her.
Next, Jeff introduced us to Toyota. The poor guy was badly burned on an electrical wire and lost his left arm. He can’t go back into the wild, but he does just fine at Miss Judy’s. We were invited into his enclosure to say hello.
As Camille stroked his hair, Toyota almost seemed to be reaching for her, much to her delight. I haven’t had a chance to edit the video yet, but here is a single clip of Camille and Toyota getting acquainted.
We also met Johnny Depp, who was finishing up his breakfast.
Next, we got a tour of the sloth nursery, where some of the healthier babies are kept. Most of them had pulled towels over their heads during the night and weren’t keen to come out. Sloths are late sleepers of course. But we did get a few sweet glimpses of the babies before our tour ended.
But we couldn’t leave without at least inquiring about Miss Judy herself. Was she here? Would she be willing to meet Camille and sign her book?
And a few moments later, Miss Judy appeared, with kind words and warm greetings for my girl.
After spending a few minutes with Miss Judy, it was time to go. As we pulled away from the sanctuary, headed back across the country, I thought what a magical morning it had been.
But things were about to get strange.