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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with wildlife conservationist, sloth author Sam Trull

Through her moving series of images, "Slothlove," Sam Trull reveals her perspective as a friend to the incredibly disarming sloths of Costa Rica. Her images illustrate much about the lives of these awe-inspiring creatures while also conveying the hardship and struggle they face for survival. Trull will be speaking about her book at Flyleaf Books Wednesday night. 

Staff writer Anish Bhatia spoke with Trull about what she wants her audience to take away from her new book "Slothlove."

The Daily Tar Heel: Tell me about transition from the United States to the wilds of Costa Rica. To what extent have your volunteer experiences and expeditions shaped your journey?

Sam Trull: I started traveling outside of the USA to work with wild animals in their habitat country in 2007 with my first trip to Madagascar to study aye-ayes. Since then I have been back to Madagascar twice more and also had trips to Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries, The Bahamas, Trinidad, Panama, Colombia and, of course, Costa Rica. All of these different travel experiences helped put my life into perspective and highlight what is really important to me and what kind of positive effect I would like to have on the world. 

DTH: What is The Sloth Institute about? 

ST: The Sloth Institute is a non-profit organization that I started with my co-founder, Seda Sejud, in August of 2014, about a year and a half after I first moved to Costa Rica. I had been working for Kids Saving the Rainforest those first two years and realized my passion for working exclusively with sloths. 

In addition I saw a great need for more research about them and how to use that research to inform decisions that will save sloth habitat and sloth lives. In Costa Rica, as well as many other countries in Central and South America, sloths are in danger from human encroachment in their natural habitat. 

The dangers include forest destruction and fragmentation, roads, electric wires, dogs, disease and the pet trade. Our goal at The Sloth Institute is to mitigate these dangers to sloths through research and education. 

DTH: Any memorable encounters you’d like to share? How do you feel like they have changed your perspective on the world/nature over the years?

ST: Every encounter with a sloth is memorable. In particular my favorite part about working with sloths is releasing them back into the rainforest where they belong. 

They are often injured or orphaned because of human disturbance in their habitat. After seeing these tragedies over and over I have become very sensitive to habitat loss. I mean, I always knew that destroying forests was bad — but now I have a tangible connection to how exactly it affects sloths. Just the trimming of a tree or cutting down of one tree can lead to the death of a sloth.

DTH: With your one-of-a-kind perspective as a true friend to sloths of the Costa Rican rainforest, what do you hope to get across to your audience through "Slothlove?"

ST: My goal in creating "Slothlove" was to educate people about how special sloths are and hopefully change their perspective, show people that they are much more than just cute and that they are not stupid or lazy. 

Sloths are incredibly complex animals that deserve respect. In addition, I hope people learn to love sloths because of "Slothlove" and realize that if you want to save them, we have to act now.

DTH: Thank you for your thoughts. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

ST: I guess the only thing I would add is that if people are wondering what they can do to help, they can make sure they never support the sloth pet trade which directly takes animals out of the wild leading to cruelty and death. And even on the rare occasion that a sloth is 'bred in captivity' for the pet trade, it is still cruel to take baby sloths away from their mothers. Sloth babies belong in the wild and with their real moms, and they stay with them up to two years! 

In addition, if you are ever on vacation to a country where sloths reside never pay to have your picture taken with them, hold them or pet them. Again this is a very cruel industry which leads to many sloth deaths every year. If you love sloths — let them be in their natural habitat and support sloth conservation organizations like The Sloth Institute.

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