Animal Tales

Outside the Box

Sloth

Fezzik loves to spend time in a box at the bottom of his exhibit, especially when he sleeps during the day.

Lisa Neyens, her husband and her two young daughters are peering into the window of the sloth exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive animal. “We always come in (the Small Mammals Building) and see if he’s out.” She spotted him hanging on a branch for the first time recently, but no such luck today. Fezzik, the 4-year-old Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, is fast asleep in his box, only a pile of wiry brown hair visible from the box’s opening.

Zoo Pride volunteer Steve Mageski explains that your best chance to see Fezzik out of his box is feeding time, around 2:30 p.m. “That’s the only time I’ve ever seen him.” Mageski volunteers in the Small Mammals Building about once a week and finds himself talking about the sloth often. Just about everyone who enters takes a peek to see if Fezzik is out. “It’s such an unusual animal,” he says of Fezzik’s popularity. “I think it’s that he moves so slowly. And a lot of people, especially the kids, think he has a cute face.”

Sloth

Rhonda Crenshaw, small mammals supervisor, helps Fezzik paint as an enrichment activity.

Sloths are best known for moving extremely slowly, although they can swipe their claws quickly when threatened, says Rhonda Crenshaw, Zoo small mammals supervisor. In the wild, they eat leaves that are hard to digest, which slows their metabolism. “They need all their energy to digest their food. That’s why they don’t move around a lot.” Plus, two-toed sloths are nocturnal, so Fezzik prefers to sleep while the Zoo is open. He moves around quite a bit at night, checking things out in his exhibit.

People think sloths are always laid back, but Fezzik is a “spitfire,” she says. “He’s very sassy. He has a really fun personality.” When he arrived in 2016, he was aggressive with keepers because he was not used to people, having previously lived in a large rainforest-themed exhibit. In an effort to bond with Fezzik, Crenshaw started painting with him. He slowly moves a paintbrush across a canvas on an easel, completing about one painting a month. “He loves to paint. Well, he loves the treats that come with it.” She doesn’t paint with him every day, but when she does, it’s around 2:30 or 3 p.m. If you visit at that time, you might get lucky and catch Fezzik out of his box.

Cool Facts about Sloths

  • Sloths are related to anteaters and armadillos.
  • They’re talented swimmers, moving three times faster in the water than on land. Sometimes sloths purposely drop from trees into water when they want to change locations.
  • Because sloths spend almost all their time hanging upside down, their organs are attached to their ribs so the organs don’t crush their lungs.
  • Some species can swivel their heads up to 270 degrees around like an owl.

This article appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Wild Things