When I look at pictures or watch videos of sloths, I see an adorable, gentle, lovable creature that moves so slowly that I can’t imagine it would ever be dangerous to anyone or anything. However, I also see claws on them that remind me of the Marvel Comics character Wolverine. So, are sloths dangerous? In this article, I will dig deeper and discuss whether sloths are dangerous when they’re around humans, when they’re being touched or held, when they’re around other animals, and when they’re amongst other sloths.
Are Sloths Dangerous When They’re Around Humans?
Generally speaking, sloths are not dangerous when they’re around humans. However, they are wild animals and regardless of how gentle and harmless they may usually be, they are still wild animals nonetheless. As such, they will instinctively defend and protect themselves if they feel threatened or if they feel that they are in danger. Some of the ways that sloths could defend and protect themselves are as follows:
- Sloths have claws that are long, curved, sharp, and strong, which enables them to hold securely onto tree branches. It is these same claws that can grab onto you if the sloth feels threatened or feels that it is in danger.
- Some sloths have an ability to turn their heads almost 360 degrees. So, if you are approaching the animal from behind, there is a good possibility that it will see you coming, and may feel threatened and take appropriate defensive actions.
- Sloths only “do their business” once or twice a week, which they do on the ground, and they are vulnerable to attacks from other animals during this time. Being acutely aware of this vulnerability that they face, they will be more “on edge” during this time, and so the possibility exists that this heightened sense of fear could result in a surprising defensive maneuver on their part.
Are Sloths Dangerous When They’re Being Touched Or Held?
Two good reasons to admire sloths from afar are:
- There are a lot of parasites, as well as fungi, on a sloth’s fur. These parasites and fungi are reported to cause Chagas disease, as well as malaria. The sloth might be just fine and stay healthy with these things living on it, but it could be a totally different situation for humans that touch the sloth’s fur. Plus, sloths hate being touched by humans, anyways (although, every once in awhile they will have some fondness for humans).
- When humans touch or hold sloths, the sloth may become disoriented and do something unexpected, like bite you or swipe their claws at you.
The Sloth Conservation Foundation says that, “Sloths might look fluffy but they are not teddy-bears – they are wild animals and they have big teeth. We have worked with hundreds of sloths over the years, (both wild and human-reared) and they can all inflict serious injuries if scared or irritated. We have seen a sloth bite through a human hand leaving a hole big enough that you could look through.”
Are Sloths Dangerous When They’re Around Other Animals?
As the slowest-moving mammal on the planet, sloths are not built to be aggressive predators and do not attempt to be at all like that. If they are attacked by other animals, they will use their claws and teeth in an attempt to defend themselves, but their best defense is to be high in the trees, staying still, and using the algae that grows on them as camouflage.
Are Sloths Dangerous While Amongst Other Sloths?
According to The Sloth Conservation Foundation, “Sloths don’t waste energy fighting over territory or food – there are plenty of leaves in the rainforest canopy to feed everyone. The only time males will fight is over access to female for mating.”
The founder of SloCo, Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, explains this situation as, “A female sloth will enter estrus once a month for approximately 7 days. During this time her activity levels will increase by about 200% (that’s a lot for a sloth!) and she will emit high-pitched vocalizations to attract the attention of nearby males. Male sloths will move through the canopy towards her and fight over mating rights. These fights can be surprisingly viscous [sic], and the ‘losing’ male will signal defeat by “crying” – this is another high pitched vocalization similar to the female. Often the aim of a sloth fight is to knock your opponent out of the tree. The victorious male will move forwards and take up position in the same tree as the female. He will stay here for several days, mating with her frequently and fighting off any competitors that wander too close (and yes, mating is one of the only things that sloths do quickly). All of this activity is hard work, however, and being a sloth, he also needs to take regular naps. This gives a precious window of opportunity for any males that have been waiting patiently nearby to ‘sneak’ in and mate with the female without being noticed.”
The Gentle And Not-So-Dangerous Sloth
So, are sloths dangerous? Generally, the answer is, “No.” However, as this article discussed, they are wild animals that have instincts to defend and protect themselves if they feel threatened or if they feel that they are in danger. This article dug deeper and went on to discuss if sloths are dangerous when they’re around humans, if they’re dangerous when they’re being touched or held, if they’re dangerous when they’re around other animals, and if they’re dangerous while amongst other sloths. The sloth deserves respect and by viewing them from afar, that respect can be shown to them. This is even a more important consideration when they are in their natural habitat. Sloths have a number of predators in the rainforests, and there are also humans that are involved in poaching and illegal trafficking of them. As a result, those predators and humans are far more dangerous to sloths than sloths could ever be to them. Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to submit them below.
If you’d like a little more sloth in your life or are thinking about a gift for someone else, check out my Product Reviews for some ideas. Also, be sure to watch for my online sloth merchandise store, which I am planning to launch in 2021.