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HomeTopicsEnvironment and WildlifeCosta Rican Sloths Face Genetic Mutations Linked to Harmful Agricultural Practices

Costa Rican Sloths Face Genetic Mutations Linked to Harmful Agricultural Practices

A recent publication by U.S. media outlet Salon pointed out that Costa Rican sloths might be in danger due to potential genetic alterations caused by harmful agricultural practices.

Salon, dedicated to political and economic issues, indicated that for more than a decade, animal shelters in Central America have reported baby sloths with mutations. In fact, the article revealed that sloths were “often missing fingers and toes, sometimes the entire lower arm would be missing, sometimes the entire limb. The ears and the jaws were very prone to being deformed.”

This was discovered by Dr. Rebecca Cliffe while working on her Ph.D. near San Clemente at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. “Here in the South Caribbean, we regularly see sloths with missing arms, missing fingers and toes, still living in the wild, some of them as adults thriving,” Cliffe said.

Although the doctor has no scientific basis for identifying what has caused the mutations in the sloths, she suspects that they are the result of unregulated agricultural practices. Encar García, who was also interviewed by the media outlet, is the founder of the Jaguar Rescue Center in Limón. He underscored the enormous impact deforestation, illegal hunting, and pesticides are having on the environment and wildlife.

However, the article emphasized that the sloth mutations reported “have been restricted to the Limón province of Costa Rica where she conducts her research,” and that “a lack of genetic mutations in sloths on the western side of Costa Rica could be an indicator the abnormalities are local to Limón.”

The province of Limón is home to most plantations in the country. The real problem began when large-scale production took over, and to maintain its production levels, Costa Rica uses more pesticides per capita than anywhere else in the world. “It’s because of the demand of the big hotels: everybody wants pineapple,” Garcia said.

Dr. Cliffe even denounced the harmful practices she has seen by these large companies who are destroying habitats.

“They don’t turn off the jets as they’re crossing over, so they’re coming right over and they’ll spray the chemicals all over the forest, the people, everything that’s there. The use of it is astronomical and it has to be impacting the sloths,” she added.

Although there is no absolute certainty as to what may be causing the sloth mutations, experts agree that the use of pesticides (sometimes pesticides that are banned in the country) is a contributing factor.

The National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters (CANAPEP), which stressed that the assertions made have no scientific basis, they lack evidence, and that the same specialists point out that it cannot be said that the malformations of the sloths are the fault of the pineapple companies.

“We believe that it is unfair for a productive sector as important as pineapple to try to sully the name when a great deal of responsible investment is being made to ensure increasingly sustainable production,” they said.

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