By John Di Leonardo
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term sloth means 1. reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness, or 2. a slow-moving tropical American mammal that hangs upside down from the branches of trees using its long limbs and hooked claws. One might ascertain that the slow-moving sloth, native to tropical climates like Costa Rica, would not be an admirable animal due to sharing a name with what is considered a vice, however, I believe that not only are sloths admirable but an animal who should be particularly admired by Jains.
Sloths are masters of equanimity and lords of ahimsa. While sloths may occasionally mix things up and eat fruit or seedpods, they are primarily folivores, meaning they eat leaves, which due to their slow metabolism may take up to one month to digest. Not only do sloths do no harm, but their hair is specially adapted to facilitate the growth of symbiotic algae and fungi.
According to the Sloth Conservation Foundation:
Each hair has a unique groove running along the length of the shaft which traps moisture. The algae and fungi that grow make the sloth appear green which facilitates camouflage in the rainforest canopy. Some species of fungi living in sloth fur have even been found to be active against certain strains of bacteria, cancer and parasites! Alongside hosting algae and fungi, sloth hair also provides home to an entire ecosystem of invertebrates – some species of which are found nowhere else on earth! A single sloth can host up to 950 moths and beetles within its fur. These colonies of invertebrates don’t appear to bother the sloth: they merely lay their eggs in sloth faeces and may feed on the algae and fungi found within the hair. Sloths do not eat the algae and fungi growing on their fur.
Though sloths have razor-sharp teeth and 4-inch hooked claws that are capable of doing significant harm, sloths typically will not use these as weapons even when threatened, simply remaining still and relying on their camouflage for safety.
While Sāmāyika is the Jain practice of periodically separating oneself from worldly attachments, a form of meditation aimed at developing equanimity or mental calmness, this is the natural state of sensitive, docile sloths.
Because of sloths’ docile and equanimous disposition, sloths have become a target by humans lacking equanimity the most and just like we would protect an ascetic under attack on the street, we should protect sloths from human avarice.
Sloth Encounters, an illegal business operating out of Islip, NY is subjecting more than half a dozen sloths, including vulnerable babies, to grabbing hands, noisy crowds, and ramshackle cages during daylight hours when they naturally would be asleep. My organization Humane Long Island has been urging the town to shut this business down and send the sloths to reputable sanctuaries; and last week, the town of Islip announced its intentions to take the business to court, slapping it with four court appearance tickets for possession of wild animals, occupancy of a building without fire marshal approval, prohibited use, and change of use without a permit.
For this week’s Anuvrat, vow to be more like a sloth. Visit SlothConservation.org and HumaneLongIsland.org to learn more about sloths and consider donating to one of these organizations fighting to protect them.
Top: A two-toed sloth sleeps during daylight hours, hanging from a tree branch at Dos Loritos wildlife rescue center in Peru before she’s released to the wild.
Bottom: A two-toed sloth sleeps on the floor of a plastic carrier at Sloth Encounters Long Island before being awoken for a feeding encounter. (Images provided)
John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].