Critically Endangered Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth Proposed For Endangered Species Act Protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed listing the pygmy three-toed sloth under the Endangered Species Act in response to a 2013 emergency petition filed by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

The pygmy three-toed sloth is the world’s smallest sloth species and are considered to be one of the world’s most critically endangered mammals. According to AWI, the most recent data on these sloths is disheartening, indicating there may be only 48 left—a significant decrease from the last estimate of 79 in 2013.

Although the pygmy three-toed sloth has been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as “critically endangered” since 2006, they are not, however, listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Last week, the USFWS proposed listing the species as threatened, determining that the pygmy sloth is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout its range due to habitat loss and degradation from timber cutting and development, overutilization by humans, loss of genetic diversity, and inadequate existing regulations.

The agency also proposed adopting a special “4(d) rule” to provide additional protections to the species. The USFWS’s proposed protections include prohibiting import, export, take (including capture, hunting, and harassment), possession, and sale of the species, and interstate or foreign commerce in the species by those subject to U.S. jurisdiction, with certain exceptions. The USFWS is accepting comments on the proposal through May 28th.

“Today’s proposal to list the pygmy three-toed sloth under the ESA is welcome news for this species that is declining due to destruction of its forest habitat, hunting, and commercial exploitation, including capture and harassment for ‘sloth selfies’ by tourists,” said DJ Schubert, senior scientist in wildlife biology at AWI.

AWI filed an emergency petition in November 2013 with the USFWS to list the pygmy sloth as endangered, leading the agency to initiate a review of the pygmy sloth’s status. The petition was filed two months after the Dallas World Aquarium captured at least eight pygmy sloths in Panama, intending to send six to its facility in Texas and two to a Panamanian zoo, despite evidence that the species does not survive well in captivity. Concerned citizens, animal advocates, and local authorities thwarted the aquarium’s plans, but at least two of the captured sloths died before they were released back into the wild.

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