Welcome to the Sloth Institute, a home for wayward baby sloths.

These sloths didn't have mothers, so this woman became their human substitute.

A sloth’s desire to cling to trees, other sloths, and people might seem adorable, but it’s actually the only way they can survive infancy.

Kermie the Sloth. All photos from Sam Trull, used with permission.


Sam Trull, the co-founder of The Sloth Institute Costa Rica, is deeply aware of this fact.

Since 2013, she’s been in Costa Rica doing everything she can to help rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release sloths back into the wild.

Trull and Monster.

Releasing sloths back into the wild is a tough, slow process.

There are many things about a sloth’s physiology that make re-release difficult: Sloths who were babies in captivity never learned primary survival skills from their mothers, and humans still don't know enough about a sloth's biology, ecology, social construct, or instinctual abilities to make up for what the sloths didn't get from their moms.

Locket and Elvis.

But Trull is determined to trudge on because she knows her sloth charges will be happier when they’re free.

"I think there is a big misconception that because sloths are slow and lazy they are okay with captivity … but that couldn't be further from the truth," Trull told Upworthy.

Prior to her work with sloths, Trull worked in primate conservation both in the United States and abroad.

She was introduced to sloths in 2013 when she joined a small wildlife rehabilitation clinic on the Pacific Coast called Kids Saving the Rainforest.


That’s where she met Kermie, a two-week-old baby two-toed sloth who had recently lost his mother.

Trull instantly fell in love and, for the next several months, assumed the vital role as Kermie's mother.

Kermie as a tiny baby sloth.

She cuddled Kermie, fed him, and played with him but ultimately never forgot the goal was to return him to his jungle home. However, she would soon find that his release involved a complicated and comprehensive plan ending in something called a "soft release."

A "soft release" allows sloths to take their time getting acclimated to the jungle before they go off on their own.

It's a concept inspired by the lemur "boot camps" Trull witnessed during her work with the Duke Lemur Center.

Monster the sloth in a basket.

To make the soft release happen, Trull and her team set up a 19-foot-cubed cage near the rehabilitation site where they keep sloths for several months until they appear ready for release.

At that point, the cage door is left open, and the sloths can come and go as they please. "The goal is that they eventually spend more and more time outside the cage and more and more time eating wild foods until they are 100% wild," Trull said.

In 2015, Trull and her team performed soft releases with Kermie and Ellen, another sloth who came to KSTR as a baby.

Monster the sloth eating a flower.

So far, both are doing well in the wild.

Trull's team will keep monitoring their progress, too, including how well they’re integrating with the other wild sloths. But there's also only so much they can do to ensure the sloths' survival.

This is perhaps the hardest aspect of Trull’s job: letting go.

She has witnessed a number of sloth casualties over these past few years, and each one to her, the self-proclaimed Mother of Sloths, has been devastating.


However, since most of the deaths occurred in captivity, they strengthen Trull’s resolve to get all those remaining back to their outdoor home.

Much is still unknown about sloths’ biology, ecology, and sociology, which is why it’s part of The Sloth Institute’s mission to learn and educate.

Pelota the sloth.

While The Sloth Institute works primarily with rescue and rehabilitation organizations like KSTR right now, Trull and co-founder Seda Sejud have turned their focus toward the bigger picture.

They want to give their program more reach, and that requires more research and larger funds, which sometimes keeps Trull away from the sloths for days at a time.

However, even though she’s not hand-raising sloth babies every day anymore, her proximity to the field site allows her to check in on her sloths on a regular basis. And at the end of the day, it all comes back to sloth love, which also happens to be the name of Trull’s new book.

"Slothlove" is filled with beautiful photos Trull has taken on her journey rehabilitating sloths, many of which you saw here in this story.

The book tells the story of Trull's relationships with the many sloths she rescued, some of which are thriving, and some of which sadly did not make it past captivity. Her work is all-consuming, and while it’s never easy, she feels like it allows her to give back in an unquantifiable way.

Trull says her work with sloths has taught her to love unconditionally and absolutely.

Chuck the sloth with his BFF, Ellen.

“They have also taught me to never give up ... that the only way to make progress in life is to persevere through each and every obstacle with the knowledge that another one is coming,” she told Upworthy.

That’s a valuable lesson for all of us.

Most Shared
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's