Meet real-life Dr Doolittle on mission to save Costa Rican sloths

Meet the real-life Dr Dolittle on a mission to save adorable orphaned sloths.

A sloth from the Sloth Sanctuary

A sloth from the Sloth Sanctuary

Zoologist Becky Cliffe is studying the cuddly critters for her PhD studies at Swansea University, having spent five years at the world-famous Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.

During her time there animal lover Becky, 25, compiled data on a number of poorly and orphaned animals suffering from limb deformities and albinism.

These are genetic problems she believes are caused by pesticides sprayed on fruit crops and loss of habitat which has resulted in inbreeding.

She said: “Many people love sloths and find them very cute and cuddly but they don’t know what problems they’re facing.

“As consumers people want to help but don’t realise the impact of buying products which have been sprayed with pesticides.

Zoologist Becky Cliffe poses with a sloth

Zoologist Becky Cliffe poses with a sloth

“It’s only until you go out to the rainforests that you see the affect it’s really having.”

Becky is now sifting through the data as a part of a long-term investigation into sloth genetics and habitat in a bid to protect future generations.

She said: “I think the biggest step in making a change is to do real science.”

Becky has been fascinated with animals since she was a tiny tot, revealing that when her parents sat her in front of the TV she’d demand to sit outside instead.

She said: “I’ve always loved all animals. When my parents would try and make me sit in front of the TV I would make a fuss as I always had to be outside – even in the rain.

“As long as I was outside with nature I was happy.”

An adorable baby sloth taken in by the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica

An adorable baby sloth taken in by the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica

Her love of sloths developed at the age of 17 when she took an interest in tropical biology.

She said: “I didn’t know a lot about sloths as they weren’t well studied, it was only when an opportunity to work with them came up from through university that I learned more about them.

“The more I learned, the more I became obsessed with them – they are my life!”

Becky explained that despite their lazy reputation two-fingered sloths are quite feisty and can only be captured with the help of a vet.

She revealed they can scratch, bite, are incredibly strong and are reluctant to let go of the tree and be examined.

A malformed jaw on a baby sloth

A malformed jaw on a baby sloth

With no financial backing for the project, Becky turned to online crowd-funding website Indiegogo to raise the money needed for basic lab equipment to process the data.

She smashed the $15,000 target and can now give the cash to Dr. Sofia (Sonia) Consuegra del Olmo, Associate Professor in Biosciences at Swansea University, to conduct the tests.

She said: “I’m very lucky to be working with her – she’s a big deal in the world of conservation genetics.”

Becky admitted that she now has to get to grips with the data she’s amassed in the last five years to complete her PhD before returning to Costa Rica and her beloved sloths.

She said: “It was so hard to leave the jungle – I plan on going back out there. My dream is to set up my own sloth conservation foundation.”

Onesie, the baby sloth grabs onto a finger while napping

Onesie, the baby sloth grabs onto a finger while napping

To see more of the work the sanctuary does, visit http://www.slothsanctuary.com/