Mortality of the Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) in Captivity
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2005

Ana Carolina Falla1, DVM; Héctor Eduardo González2, DVM, PhD; Haydy Monsalve3, DVM; Rocío Polanco4,6, MSc; Pilar Donado5, DVM, MSc

1Parque Recreativo y Zoologico Piscilago, Girardot, Bogotá, Colombia; 2Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Columbia; 3Zoologico Santa Cruz, Cundinamarca, Colombia; 4Instituto Alexander Von Humboldt, Bogotá, DC, Colombia; 5University of California, Davis, CA, USA; 6Fundacion Natura, Bogotá, Columbia


The three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) is highly coveted in the Columbian illegal fauna trade, especially during vacation periods, when animals are sold to tourists as pets. However, rescued, wild-caught, three-toed sloths often die of unknown causes. In addition, maintenance of this species in captivity has been reported as difficult.1-4 It is speculated that the mortality rate of this species in captivity is related to its very specialized feeding habits.4 Increased knowledge about causes of morbidity and mortality of this species will promote effective rescue strategies for sloths.

Morbidity and mortality information for 12 three-toed sloths acquired from the illegal fauna trade in Columbia were reviewed. Additional clinical studies of these animals aided the recognition of sick sloths. Postmortem research of these cases improved understanding of the gross and microscopic characteristics of normal and diseased tissues in this species. It was established that sloths experiencing stress develop digestive, cardiovascular, and respiratory dysfunctions leading to multiple organ system failure, shock, and death. Circulatory alterations ultimately cause the animal’s demise.

Literature Cited

1.  Beebe, W. 1926. The three-toed sloth (Bradypus cuculliger cuculliger). Zoologica. 7:1–67.

2.  Crandall, L.S. 1964. The Management of Wild Mammals in Captivity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. 187–190.

3.  Munao, L. and P. Oliveira. 1999. Clinical problems of sloths (Bradypus sp. and Choloepus sp.) in captivity. J Zoo Wildl Med. 30:76–80.

4.  Sunquist, M. and G. Montgomery. 1978. Habitat selection and use by two-toed and three-toed sloths. In: Montgomery, G. (Ed.): The Ecology of Arboreal Folivores. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. 329–359.


Speaker Information
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Ana Carolina Falla, DVM
Parque Recreativo y Zoologico Piscilago
Girardot, Bogota, Colombia

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