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Hanging Tough: Rescuers use a sloth sporting event to help save one of the world's slowest animals.

Ready, set, GO! A group of competitors takes off from the starting line. But they don't seem to be in much of a hurry. Why not? The athletes are sloths--one of the slowest animals on Earth!

The race is part of an event called the Sloth Ironman Games. It's held every October at the Toucan Rescue Ranch, a wildlife center in Costa Rica. Sloths face off in games including a climbing race and a flower-eating contest (see Sloth Sporting Events, below). The animals don't always cooperate. "Sometimes they go completely in the wrong direction!" says Zara Palmer, who runs the event.

The games are fun, but they have a serious purpose. Organizers want to spread the word about the dangers sloths face in the tropical rainforests where they live. All the sloths in the Ironman Games were injured or orphaned in the wild. Rescuers in Costa Rica are caring for them and working to save their forest home.

The Slow Life

Sloths are known for their super-slow lifestyle. They spend most of their time hanging upside down in the forest canopy in South and Central America. Sloths eat, give birth, and even sleep in this position! Their powerful claws help them grip onto branches as they move slowly through the trees. You can tell the two main types--two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths--by the number of claws on these front paws.

Scientists think sloths' extreme slowness helps them survive. The forest is full of predators like jaguars and hawks. But those animals have a hard time spotting sloths in the treetops. Tiny plant-like organisms called algae grow on sloths' fur. That gives them a green tint and helps them blend in.

Unfortunately, sloths' habitat is disappearing. People are cutting down the trees to make room for buildings and roads. On the ground, sloths are often attacked by dogs or run over by cars. "Sloths now face a lot of new dangers because of humans," says Sam Trull.

She's the founder of the Sloth Institute, an organization that rescues sloths that have been affected by deforestation. It's Trull's mission to keep these slowpokes safe.

Sloth Snuggles

Trull moved to Costa Rica in 2007 to study primates like monkeys. Instead, she fell in love with sloths. Many of the sloths at the Sloth Institute have been badly hurt. Some have fallen from trees. Others have been injured by electric wires or attacked by animals.

Baby sloths that have lost their mothers need a lot of love and care. In the wild, they hold tight to their mother as she hangs from trees. "They cling to mom 24 hours a day," says Trull. To mimic this experience, Trull often straps baby sloths to her chest.

It can take years to teach sloths the skills they need to return to the wild. Workers place sloths in a large outdoor pen to help them become comfortable in the forest. Sloths gradually spend more time outside the pen until they're ready to stay there for good.

Saving Sloths

Trull's team is helping sloths in other ways too. Where there are gaps in the canopy, workers are using ropes to connect the trees. Sloths can climb this "sloth speedway" to stay safely away from dangers on the ground.

The Sloth Institute also works with the Toucan Rescue Ranch to raise money to protect sloths. The annual Sloth Ironman Games are part of that effort. The ranch streams the games online and encourages viewers to donate to support sloth conservation.

Every year, a new group of sloths compete in the Sloth Ironman Games. Organizers are excited to see what will happen this year. "You never know who will win," says Palmer. "Sometimes they go straight for the finish. Other times they want to take a nap!"

Three-Toed Sloths

[check] have three claws on their front limbs

[check] have coarse, mostly gray fur

[check] are diurnal (more active during the day than night)

[check] include four of the six sloth species

Sloth Sporting Events

The Sloth Ironman Games include activities that help sloths practice skills they will need to survive in the wild. Here are three main events.

Strong Sloth Challenge: XWhich sloth can hoist itself to the top of a branch first?

1-Meter Dash: Animals 4 "race" upside down across a bamboo pole.

Devour the Flower: Yum! Sloths gobble up hibiscus flowers as fast as they can.

Two-Toed Sloths

[check] have two claws on their front paws

[check] have soft, mostly brown fur

[check] are nocturnal (more active at night than daytime)

[check] include two of the six sloth species

Where Sloths Live

Here's where sloths can be found in South America and Central America.

Think: Where on the map would you expect to find rainforests?

Words to know

tropical rainforest--a thick evergreen forest that grows in a hot, wet climate

canopy--the dense, leafy layer of a forest where many plants and animals live

predator--an animal that hunts other animals for food

habitat--the area in which a plant or animal normally lives

deforestation--the process of cutting down forests

READING LEVELS: Lexile 860L / Guided Reading Level R

NEED A LOWER READING LEVEL? To access this article at a lower reading level, go to


Combine information from different sources to communicate how deforestation is affecting sloths.



Core Idea: LS2.C: Ecosystem dynamics, functioning, and resilience

Practice: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Concept: Cause and effect


Reading Informational Text: 2.

Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.


Science: 3.9A, 3.10A, 4.10A, 5.9A, 5.9C, 5.10A

ELA: 3.7D, 4.7D, 5.7D, 6.10A

Lesson Plan

(1) Use a photo to prompt a discussion about sloths.

Open the digital version of the magazine and show the cover to the class. Prompt students to make observations about the image they see. Ask: What is this animal? Where is it? What is it doing?

Allow students to work in pairs to write down three questions about the image. When all students have finished, have them share their questions by writing them on the board. Students should form answers based on the image and any prior knowledge.

(2) Use a video to build background knowledge about sloths.

Show the video "Hanging With Sloths," available at scholastic, com/superscience. Return to the questions on the board to see if the class can form answers for them.

Ask: What characteristics help sloths survive in tropical rainforests? (Answers could include that their slow movements help them hide from predators.)

Have students share their ideas about what might happen if the forest is cut down. Would sloths survive? Why or why not?

(3) Read and summarize the article with a partner.

Read the article aloud as a class, switching students after each paragraph. Then have students work with partners to summarize the main points of the article by completing the "What's the Gist?" skill builder sheet available at Ask:

* What is happening to the forests in Costa Rica? (They are being cut down by people to make space for roads and buildings.)

* How is that affecting sloths? (On the ground, sloths are vulnerable to threats like predators. They can be injured, lose their mothers, or die.)

Have students share the ways that rescuers in the article are trying to help sloths.

(4) Design a poster to encourage people to help save sloths.

Explain that the Toucan Rescue Ranch hosts the Sloth Ironman Games to bring attention to the need to save sloths. Ask: What about the event grabs people's attention?

Distribute poster boards and markers to groups of 3-4 students. Have groups design posters that try to persuade people to protect the rainforest and/or save sloths. Prompt students to use information from both the article and the video. Hang the finished posters up in the room. Ask: Which poster is most convincing and why?

The Toucan Rescue Ranch will begin streaming the 2019 Sloth Ironman Games on October 20.

To learn how to watch, visit: / y24chrbw.


available at

Sloth Range Map (online only): Answer questions about a map showing sloths' range.

What's the Gist? (online only): Summarize the main events in the article.

Hanging With Sloths (online only): Learn more about the different species of sloths.

Caption: The winner of the 2018 event was a two-toed sloth named Goldie.

Caption: Zoologist Sam Trull examines a three-toed sloth.

Caption: Sloths are fitted with special tracking collars before they are released.

Caption: Young sloths snuggle with each other for comfort.
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Title Annotation:life science
Author:Drimmer, Stephanie Warren
Geographic Code:2COST
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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