A Welsh researcher is living a “Lara Croft” like existence in the snake-infested jungles of Costa Rica – in a bid to unlock the secret lives of sloths.
Rebecca “Becky” Cliffe, 23, a zoology student at Swansea University, used a crowd funding campaign earlier this year entitled Save Our Sloths to raised £30,000 (US$48.000 dollars) towards her work.
She has now started the process of placing GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking “backpacks” on sloths whose feeding range and movements are little known.
It will help conservation of the secretive creatures who use camouflage as one of their main survival tactics.
Becky, known as the “Sloth Woman of Costa Rica” is currently studying for her PhD, under the supervision of Professor Rory Wilson of Swansea University – an animal behaviour expert who has pioneered the use of animal friendly tracking devices.
A lead scientific consultant for National Geographic’s Great Migrations series, Professor Wilson’s lightweight trackers using GPS technology have followed the daily lives of creatures such as leopards, sharks, albatrosses, elephant seals and armadillos.
Becky Cliffe has been working at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica for some time and, using the money she raised, will now carry out an exhaustive study of the animals in the country’s extensive jungles over the next few years.
Name-checking the adventure-loving games console character who went on to be played by Angelina Jolie on the big screen, Becky tweeted from the jungle: “Feeling a bit like Lara Croft today with a machete stuffed down my snake boot!”
And she told WalesOnline: “Trekking through the jungle is never easy – in addition to the extreme heat and humidity, I have to be on constant guard for snakes, spiders and scorpions that could cause me some serious problems if I accidentally get too close.
“And then there are the huge swarms of angry mosquitoes that no amount of repellent will deter.
“This all quickly fades into insignificance though as soon as I manage to spot the sloth I am looking for, it’s a really great moment that immediately makes everything worthwhile.”
But life in the jungle comes at a price – the lack of home comforts.
“I definitely miss the convenience of life back in Wales,” she said.
“If I want to go to the shops, cinema, or hang out with friends back home then I can just jump in the car and go.
“Life is much more difficult out here living in the middle of nowhere. It certainly has its benefits though, with beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches and of course plenty of sloths to keep me busy.
“I can’t plan too far ahead as nothing ever works out as expected in life.
“Four years ago I wouldn’t have guessed I’d end up where I am today, so who knows what the future holds.
“I think the sloths are going to keep me busy for a long time though, there is so much that we still need to know.”
She added: “Very little is known about how sloths survive in the wild and because of this, the sanctuary here in Costa Rica has never been able to release hand-reared orphans.
“Now with these funds we have the chance to purchase the technology to understand how sloths survive and to reintroduce them back safely into their natural habitat.”
Becky has placed her first GPS locator on the back of Madonna, a pregnant sloth brought to the sanctuary by a local hotel owner after she had fallen out of her tree onto the building roof.
X-rays show she is fit to travel so she will now be released and tracked, leading the way for other sloths to be monitored in the jungles.
Source: Wales Online