Teddy, a 44-year-old male sloth, and Grizzly, a 34-year-old female, relocated from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
Teddy and Grizzly live most of their lives upside down.
So the new home for this pair of Hoffman's two-toed sloths — a rainforest exhibit at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park — has plenty of accommodating trees, limbs and vines.
The public will get to watch the slow-moving mammals hang upside down and snooze beginning Friday when the exhibit opens following a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting and public celebration. A special educational kiosk about the sloths will operate until noon.
But close-up interaction between park visitors and Teddy, a 44-year-old male, and Grizzly, a 34-year-old female, will be by reservation only and not until after they have had a few weeks to settle in to their new abode, said Sarah Patterson, bird and mammal curator.
"Our education department will be taking reservations for rainforest encounters," she said. "Guests will be able to go inside the new habitat with an educator to learn more about our dynamic rainforest species and to offer a snack to the sloths. Because sloths are nocturnal, these experiences will be limited to allow Teddy and Grizzly to get their beauty rest."
Trevor Mia, the park's curator of education, has said the sloths are expected to tolerate the encounters well because they were frequently around people at their previous home, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Teddy, in particular, has been "an ambassador animal for the majority of his life, so he’s been used in a lot of school group programs, been on talk shows or TV shows," Mia told The St. Augustine Record. "He has been out and around, interacting with the public and teaching everyone about sloths."
Sloths are native to the Central and South American tropical forests where they live in treetops. Some of the six species are threatened with habitat loss because of deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
They do most everything upside down — their internal anatomy prevents them from having trouble while inverted — and have an extremely low metabolic rate and body temperature. They spend 10 to 15 hours a day sleeping, are strong swimmers and eat leaves, twigs and buds, according to the fund.
Teddy and Grizzly's relocation to St. Augustine from Tampa came after a few years of discussions among park staff.
"Much of the Alligator Farm’s decision to bring in any new species is driven by the desire to further contribute to conservation," Patterson said. "Although Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are considered to be animals of least concern, we thought that their appeal would be a great way to engage guests in conversation about species of concern in the Central and South American rainforests and the rainforest itself."
Prior to making the final decision to acquire a sloth, park staff contacted other zoos about their experience working with the animals. When they described their planned rainforest habitat to Phil Hillary, director of animal programs at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, he said his zoo "had a pair that would be perfect for the role."
Teddy and Grizzly were brought together at Busch Gardens to breed and have had three offspring. Given their ages, their mating lives are likely over, but they remain a pair.
"Although sloths are typically solitary animals, Teddy and Grizzly … made the choice to stay together," Patterson said.
In December, she and Mia went to Tampa to meet the two sloths. They agreed that St. Augustine "would be a great home for them to live out their Golden Years," Patterson said.
When Teddy and Grizzly are released into the rainforest exhibit, they will share their new digs with yellow-footed tortoises and sunbittern, a tropical bird.
Founded in 1893, the park has a wide range of crocodilians, reptiles, mammals and birds and features natural exhibits, wildlife shows and educational demonstrations. The latest animal births occurred Tuesday when eight slender-snouted crocodiles, a critically endangered African species, hatched, Patterson said.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109