By Liz Tyson
Vish is a three-month-old sloth who was confiscated by Peruvian authorities when he was found being kept (illegally) as a pet in the city of Tarapoto in the Amazon region of San Martin. Sloths are extremely sensitive wild animals that should never be kept as pets, but the illegal wildlife trade is rife in the area.
Illegal markets act as a conduit for both live and dead animals captured from the forests. Monkeys, coatis and birds are common victims of the exotic pet trade in Peru. Tragically, these babies are often tied up next to the carcasses of their dead family members whose bodies will be sold as “bushmeat.” Many are not even weaned and are too young to survive without their mothers.
Thankfully, a number of locally-based organizations are working hard on the ground to tackle the cruel trade in wild animals. One such group is Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), a small charity run by Doctors Noga and Sam Shanee from their base in La Esperanza, Peru (which, rather fittingly, means “hope” in Spanish). Thanks to the intervention of NPC, there is now hope that Vish the little sloth will live a long and natural life in his native forest; something which seemed impossible just a few short weeks ago.
Confiscated From the Illegal Wildlife Trade
Vish was confiscated when a concerned member of the public tipped off local officials to the presence of the young animal in a neighbor’s home. Where Vish had been purchased remains unknown, but when he was handed into the care of NPC, it was unclear if the sickly little animal would survive.
Thankfully, the charity’s founder, Noga, had played surrogate mom to rescued sloths before and knew just what needed to be done to nurse Vish back to health. “Caring for a baby sloth is very similar to caring for a newborn baby,” explains Noga, “You cannot take your eyes off them for a second and they need constant care, including feeding round the clock.”
Feeding him a specialized diet of wild leaves and sprouts, Noga cared for Vish for over two weeks, during which time Vish released his vice-like grip on her only to practice his climbing skills in the charity’s garden.
“There was a frightening period when Vish just seemed to give up,” says Noga. “He stopped eating and we thought he wasn’t going to make it. But we persevered and Vish was determined. After this small pause in his rehabilitation, he recovered his appetite and then there was no stopping him!”
Released Back to His Forest Home
Vish soon made an incredible recovery and because he had been removed from the forest recently, the team were eager to get him home as soon as possible. Once they were sure he was fully fit and healthy, he was released into a local protected reserve, Tangue, near Moyobamba, where a community-run reforestation project is based.
Vish now has a bright future ahead of him, but the work to tackle the trade continues.
“We have worked with the authorities to raid four illegal wildlife markets, resulting in the rescue of almost 1,500 animals, in the last twelve months and also have taken animals in who have been kept as pets or used illegally in businesses like circuses,” explains Noga. “Much of the information comes via our ‘DenunciaFauna’ [ReportWildife\ campaign which encourages members of the public to come forward and report wildlife crime when they see it. This combination of effective enforcement and community engagement means we are starting to make a real impact on the devastating wildlife trade in the region.”
To learn more about the amazing work that NPC is doing to help Peru’s wildlife, check out their website and Facebook page.