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Venezuelan couple nurses injured sloths back to health at home shelter

·3 min read

By Vivian Sequera

SAN ANTONIO DE LOS ALTOS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Juan Carlos Rodriguez and his wife Haydee were taking one of their dogs to the veterinarian in Venezuela last year when they found a sloth on the road that had fallen from a power line after apparently suffering an electric shock.

They took the Brown-throated sloth - which are common in parts of South and Central America - to the vet and were able to save him, though the animal lost two hind limbs and the claws of its left arm.

They dubbed him Chuwie after the furry Star Wars character Chewbacca and decided to open a shelter for the vulnerable animals in their home in the lush suburbs of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

The famously slow-moving animals obtain their nourishment and protection from predators by spending their time in tropical forests. But they are prone to attack or injury when they are outside that environment.

The Chuwie the Gentleman Rescue Center has so far rehabilitated more than 40 sloths and returned them to the wild.

"We want to be the NASA of sloths," said Haydee Rodriguez, referring to the U.S. space agency, describing plans to conduct research on sloths due to limited knowledge of the animals in Venezuela.

Neither is a veterinarian, but they have learned to provide treatment with the help of online training from experts in Chile and Costa Rica.

They hope to set aside 400 square meters (4,306 square feet) of their 1,100-meter (11,840 square feet) property by the middle of next year to be able to treat 50 sloths at a time.

Funding needs are limited because sloths generally eat leaves. Veterinarian friends in Chile send them donations of medicine.

Chuwie's injuries meant he could not survive in the wild, so he has stayed on as a pet in the Rodriguez's two-story home in San Antonio de Los Altos - a Caracas suburb surrounded by verdant forest that is a natural habitat for sloths.

Other sloths that will return to the wild receive numbers instead of names because the Rodriguezes do not want them to habituate to people.

Six species of sloths live in Central and South America, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, which says that their natural habitats have been disrupted by deforestation and degradation of tropical forests.

Only the Pygmy three-toed sloth, the bradypus pygmaeus species that lives in Panama, is critically endangered, according to the U.N. agency.

There are no figures on Venezuela's sloth population, said Juan Carlos Rodriguez. The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Rodriguezes recently spent nine days giving treatment to sloth "43" for an eye injury and a respiratory infection after a nearby family found it in the parking lot of their building.

On July 30, they led sloth Number 43 - a 4.1-kg (nine-pound) female - to the woods at their edge of the property and watched as she walked off through the undergrowth.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, editing by Brian Ellsworth and Cynthia Osterman)

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