The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Squirrel
Story Of The Otter
Story Of The Civet
Story Of The Crocodile
Story Of The Sloth
Story Of The Tortoise
Story Of The Ocelot
Story Of The Wolf
Story Of The Badger
Story Of The Hyena
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Story Of The Sloth
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
One of the most singular animals is the South American sloth, a creature which a short time ago was thought to lead a most miserable life, owing to its awkward and painful movements when placed upon the ground. Nature never intended the sloth to live upon the ground at all, but designed it for a life in the trees, for which it is fitted in a very remarkable manner.
The sloth, instead of climbing after the manner of the squirrel or the monkey, passes almost its whole existence beneath the boughs, to which it clings with its long and strongly-curved claws, its back being thus toward the ground. In this singular position the sloth eats, drinks, and sleeps, traveling slowly from tree to tree every now and then, and seeming seldom or never to descend to the ground.
The sloth is gifted with great strength, and its muscles, moreover, possess most wonderful power of endurance, so that although the entire weight of the body is constantly supported by the limbs, they never give way to fatigue.
The life of the sloth is a very uneventful one, for, as it feeds upon the leaves of trees, an abundant supply of food is always within its reach, and it is not, therefore, obliged to search for provisions like most other animals. Then, again, its curious habits place it out of the reach of beasts of prey, and, indeed, almost the only foes which the animal has to fear is the serpents, which, of course, can follow it into its leafy retreat and overcome it with-oil c difficulty.
The sense of hearing in these animals seems but imperfectly developed; and their small, dull and reddish eyes do not appear capable of very acute vision. Indeed, on first observing a sloth its eyes look so devoid of brightness as to give the impression that the creature must be blind.
But a single young is produced at a birth. When it first comes into the world the young sloth is fully developed, having the body thickly clothed with hair, and the claws on the toes of the same proportionate length as in the adult. With these claws it clings fast to the long hair of its mother, clasping its arms around her neck.
It is gifted with great tenacity of life, surviving under injuries which would have proved instantly mortal to any other animal. It even surpasses the opossum in endurance.
A friend of mine had a sloth which he kept in his house for some time. The animal usually lived on the back of a chair to which it slung itself by its curved claws. After keeping it for some time, he was desirous of killing it, as its skin was required for the purpose of stuffing, and the death warrant was issued against the sloth. But how to kill it was the difficulty; and its owner, being a naturalist, and, therefore, a merciful man, in spite of popular prejudices on the subject, was much perplexed in his mind. At last he determined on trying the effect of the wourali poison, used by the Indians to give their weapons of war and the chase a more deadly effect. Even a sloth could not resist the wourali. A very small wound was made through the animal's skin, and inoculated with the poison. Soon the sloth began to droop, its head sunk upon one side, and, after a few minutes, one of its feet lost its hold of the chair on which it was hanging. The other foot soon gave way under the influence of the poison, and the dying animal fell to the ground. It lay there perfectly quiet, and, after a few minutes had elapsed, gently closed its eyes, and was dead. Its whole demeanor was that of an animal overcome with sleep, and it never appeared to suffer the slightest pain.
Such, indeed, seems to be the effect of this singular composition upon any living creature. If an animal is wounded, although slightly, by a weapon charged with this poison, it runs a few paces, staggers, and lies down as if to sleep, and in a few minutes is dead. The effect is the same upon man. Two Indians were hunting after birds, and one of them had just launched a poisoned arrow at a bird nearly above him. The arrow missed its mark, glanced against a bough, and in its fall struck into the arm of the man who had thrown it. He looked at his arm, took off his quiver of arrows, remarked that he should never use them again, laid himself down, and was dead almost immediately.
No account of the sloth would be complete without some reference to the gigantic ground-sloths which were formerly so abundant in South America, as it is by their aid alone that we are able to comprehend the relationship of the true sloths to the ant-eaters. The best known of these creatures is the megatherium, which rivalled the elephant in bulk. They may be described as possessing the skulls and teeth of sloths, and the backbones, limbs, and tails of ant-eaters. They agreed with the sloths in having large and complete collarbones; but, as I infer from the conformation of the lower jaw, they approximated to the ant-eaters in the elongation of their tongues. The majority of the ground-sloths were South American; but one species of megatherium ranged into North America.