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Anecdotes Of The Sloth

( Originally Published 1851 )

It must be observed, that the Sloth does not hang head-downwards, like the vampire. When asleep, he supports himself from a branch parallel to the earth. He first seizes the branch with one arm, and then with the other; and after that, brings up both his legs, one by one, to the same branch, so that all the four are in a line: he seems perfectly at rest in this position. As the Sloth is an inhabitant of forests within the tropics, where the trees touch each other in the greatest profusion, there seems to be no reason why he should confine himself to one tree alone for food, and entirely strip it of its leaves. During the many years I have ranged the forests, I have never seen a tree in such a state of nudity; indeed, I would hazard a conjecture, that by the time the animal has finished the last of the old leaves, there would be a new crop on the part of the tree he had stripped first, ready for him to begin again, so quick is the process of vegetation in these countries." In an experiment tried by the traveller of putting a dog to death by means of the exceedingly subtle wourali poison, made by the South American Indians, " some faint resistance on the part of nature (says he) was observed, as its existence struggled for superiority; but in the following instance of the Sloth, life sunk in death without the least apparent contention, without a cry, without a struggle, and without a groan. This was the Ai, or three-toed Sloth. It was in the possession of a gentleman who was collecting curiosities. [le wished to have it killed, in order to preserve the skin, and the wourali poison was resorted to as the easiest death. Of all animals, not even the toad and tortoise excepted, this poor ill-formed creature is the most tenacious of life. It exists long after it has received wounds which would have destroyed any other animal; and it may be said, on seeing a mortally wounded Sloth, that life disputes with death every inch of flesh iii its body. The Ai was wounded in the leg, and put down on the floor, about two feet from the table; it contrived to reach the leg of the table, and fastened itself on it, as if wishful to ascend. But this was its last advancing step; life was ebbing fast, though imperceptibly; nor could this singular production of nature, which has been formed of a texture to resist death in a thousand shapes, make any stand against the wourali poison. First, one fore-leg let go its hold, and dropped down motion-less by its side; the other gradually did the same. The fore-legs having now lost their strength, the Sloth slowly doubled its body, and placed its head betwixt its hind-legs, which still adhered to the table; but when the poison had affected these also, it sunk to the ground, but sunk so gently, that you could not distinguish the movement from an ordinary motion; and had you been ignorant that it was wounded with a poisoned arrow, you would never have suspected that it was dying. During the tenth minute from the time it was wounded, it stirred, and that was all; and the minute after, life's last spark was out." Waterton.

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