Petrified Sloth Facing Off Against Dog Highlights Heartbreaking Issue

A vulnerable sloth is seen facing off against a large dog in an image that highlights a heartbreaking conservation issue.

American photographer Suzi Eszterhas entered it into the 58th Wildlife Photographer (WPY) of the Year competition hosted by the London Natural History Museum (NHM) and it has been “highly commended” in the Urban Wildlife category by expert jurors.

The image, dubbed Sloth dilemma, will be featured as one of 100 photographs at the NHM’s WPY exhibition, which opens on October 14 in London. The exhibition will subsequently embark on a U.K. and international tour.

According to the NHM, the images, which were taken by photographers of all ages and experience levels, illustrate “the precious beauty” of our planet.

“Captured by some of the best photography talent from around the world, the 100 photographs encourage curiosity, connection and wonder,” NHM director Doug Gurr said in a statement. “These inspiring images convey human impact on the natural world in a way that words cannot—from the urgency of declining biodiversity to the inspiring bounce back of a protected species.”

The NHM has released several highly-commended images as a preview ahead of the exhibition itself. Aside from Eszterhas’ sloth image, other photos in the preview include one of a treefrog pool party and another of American mink fighting for space in a small cage on a fur farm.

Encounter between sloth and a dog
The “Sloth dilemma” image captured by Suzi Eszterhas, in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. The image shows an encounter between a brown-throated sloth and a dog.
Suzi Eszterhas/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

In the Sloth dilemma image, Eszterhas captures a tense encounter between a brown-throated sloth and a large dog in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica.

The range of these sloths extends from Honduras all the way down to Peru and Bolivia. But these animals are facing a number of threats including a loss of habitat, power line electrocutions, genetic isolation and deformities, urban development, vehicle collisions, tourism, the illegal pet trade and dog attacks.

Eszterhas told Newsweek that she took the picture while documenting urban sloths in Costa Rica and the conservation work of the Sloth Conservation Foundation.

“I’ve spent months with their team in the field trying to show how sloths are having trouble adapting to the modern world and all of the deforestation it brings with it,” the photographer said.

When Eszterhas had taken the image, the sloth had just made it across the road. But to reach the next clump of trees it had to return to the ground and crawl. At this point, it froze after spotting a big dog.

This was a potentially deadly situation for the sloth—dog attacks are the second leading cause of sloth deaths in Costa Rica.

A treefrog pool party
The treefrog pool party image taken by Brandon Güell in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. The image shows a rare breeding frenzy of frogs.
Brandon Güell/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

“Sloths are particularly vulnerable to dog attacks as they cannot jump or run, and they often resort to crawling on the ground to travel between trees in urban areas,” Eszterhas said. “Sloths have no defense against predators except camouflage. So, when they are on the ground and highly visible they have no way to protect themselves.”

“At first I was tremendously worried about the sloth. But luckily the dog sniffed the sloth and then walked away.”

The dog could have easily killed the sloth but it had previously partaken in a program run by the Sloth Conservation Foundation that trains dogs not to attack sloths.

“Part of the Sloth Conservation Foundation’s Oh My Dog program is to give community members free access to dog training classes where dog owners learn techniques to train their dogs not to attack sloths and other animals on the ground,” she said. “This program has been very successful and over 100 dog owners have participated in these programs to date.”

“This dog lives in an area where she sees a lot of sloths on the ground and never attacks them,” she said. “I was filled with immense gratitude for the team at the Sloth Conservation Foundation and how their work is truly saving the lives of sloths and other wild animals.”

Sloths live in trees and rarely descend to the ground. But with increasing habitat loss and forest fragmentation, these animals are being forced to make vulnerable journeys in urbanized areas to find food, suitable habitats and mates.

The winners of the NHM competition will be announced on October 11 at an award ceremony.

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