Sloth meet-cute: National Zoo hopes pair of two-toed sloths will hit it off...slowly

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The Washington Post

Zookeepers turned matchmakers, as officials hope Athena and Vlad can eventually become a couple

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Athena, a two-toed female sloth, arrived from a Texas zoo in December at the National Zoo. Keepers hope she will mate with a male sloth.

This beautiful two-toed sloth is called Athena. Zookeepers at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington are hoping the 1.5-year-old female from the Ellen Trout Zoo in Texas will hit it off with a male sloth during their time together at her new home.

Athena made her debut at the National Zoo on December 22, and zoo officials hope she’ll take a liking to her male suitor: a 34-year-old male sloth named Vlad. There hasn’t been a baby sloth born at the zoo since 1984.

Zoo keepers have started to “introduce” Athena and Vlad, and, just as sloths move, they’ve done it slowly.

Before the two, two-toed sloths meet face-to-face, there’s some courtship.

First, they swapped the sloths’ blankets. The animals curl up with the blankets, which keepers said gives them “the opportunity to get acquainted with each other’s scents” before they meet, according to a statement from the zoo.

Date number two could likely involve the sloths meeting between a mesh wall. Experts said they’ll see each other “without physically being in the same space.”

“If Athena and Vlad seem interested in each other and indicate that they would like to spend time together, they will be on exhibit together,” keepers said in a statement. Then the pair will spend the next year and a half, officials said, “getting to know each other.”

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Two-toed sloths are native to Central and South America, and their populations in the wild are stable. They’re listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In the wild, they’re arboreal (they live in trees) and live in tropical rainforests. And as their name implies, sloths move slowly. So slowly, in fact, that they have a metabolic rate of about 40 per cent to 45 per cent of “what would be expected for their body weight,” according to animal experts.

They eat a diet of leaves and fruit, and their food can stay in their digestive tracts for up to a week. Experts said that because sloths digest so slowly they need to poop only once a week. (Efficient!) And even though they’re slow, two-toed sloths are good swimmers.

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Experts said female two-toed sloths reach “full maturity” and can breed when they’re three years old. They are pregnant for about six months. When born, baby sloths spend their first five weeks “clinging to their mother’s bellies.”

At the National Zoo, sloths typically share a spot with golden lion tamarins. The tamarins are known to curl up and nap with Vlad, the male sloth.

For now, Athena is living with some monkeys and a green aracari, which is a tropical bird. She’s also working on her training with zoo keepers so they can care for her health.

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