Mason County News
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009 • Posted October 28, 2009

Creatures Great and Small…

It may as well be admitted up front. Some geezers in my generation are nestled snuggly into their “second childhood.” After a recent cruise to the Panama Canal, the wonderment of it all has nudged me toward my “third childhood”—or at least back to the pre-school years of my second.

We were prepared to sign on with the “eighth wonder of the world” designation for the canal, a massive project begun more than a century ago.

As we sailed from Fort Lauderdale with a couple of thousand other passengers on Princess Cruise Line’s Island Princess, thoughts centered on the remarkable canal that shaved about 8,000 miles off the trip for vessels sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.

Secondarily, we flipped through colorful brochures that assured “up close” visual encounters with hundreds of species of flora and fauna unique to Central America….

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My wife and I could not have been more taken aback by prides of lions, herds of elephants or exotic acreage of flowers accented by ribbons of orchids.

The big “shocker” aside from the canal, though, was nothing of grand scale. It was, instead, a small sanctuary whose founders’ passion runs deep for one of the world’s most misunderstood creatures.

The sloth?...

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Isn’t this the animal we walk past at the zoo, more intent on seeing others that are at least moving about? Isn’t it the one that might just as well be written off for being asleep 18 hours daily?

Isn’t it the animal friends and family have accused me of being most like? Like the sloth, I’m often motionless for hours at a time, view the world upside down and hang on by my toenails.

Until the sanctuary visit, the sloth was well down the list of animals I’d most like to be compared to….

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During our two hours there, we learned much about this small animal that dates back 65 million years to the Ice Age.

An earthquake that shook Costa Rica 18 years ago triggered initiatives to change centuries-old perceptions that sloths are “nature’s mistake.”

When the quake leveled the home of Luis and Judy Arroyo, they decided to rebuild it as a bed and breakfast and to offer tours and canoe rides in their 120-acre jungle paradise. It is rich with hundreds of species of birds, plants and animals that are unique to the locale….

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Early on, though, their priorities were turned upside down by the arrival of an orphaned animal that spends much of her life hanging upside down. The three-fingered baby sloth was a “gift” from three neighbor girls who found it. Now, “Buttercup” remains the star attraction of the Aviarios Sloth Rescue Center, the only such facility in the world.

She became the “poster girl” for a growing world awareness of a species victimized by man’s encroachment into New World jungles, the felling of rain forests, attacks of dogs and encounters with hot wires atop utility poles.

Soon, other orphaned and injured sloths landed on the Arroyo’s doorstep….

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Thus began the couple’s passion to befriend, defend, explain and enlist support for what truly are cuddly and intelligent animals. Awareness is growing and plans are grandiose for these creatures that, along with dolphins, are the only mammals with perpetual smiles.

They are heart-winners, these creatures who sometimes survive 90-foot falls and whose natural enemies are few—harpy eagles from above, snakes and jaguars from below.

The center, about a 20-minute ride from Limón, where the Island Princess docked, continues to grow….

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Learn more of this center on the web at Go to “You Tube” for vignettes featuring the baby animals (as almost two million others have done) to develop a new appreciation for sloths.

Many may be intrigued by the “Adopt-A-Sloth” program or may wish to support the center’s “Slothpital.”

Me? I’m going to visit the Fort Worth Zoo, Texas’ first that is now 100 years old. I’ll head straight for of Freckle and Velcro. They are two sloths that the rescue center in Costa Rica has given second chances at life. (At this writing, 85 sloths have been returned to the wilds, and 123 are currently cared for at the sanctuary.) No doubt, the zoo visit will remind me that when I am called “slothful” in the future, I’ll respond with a quick “thank you!”…

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Email: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site:

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