After a pregnant sloth fell out of a tree in Costa Rica, veterinarians performed a caesarean operation to deliver her pre-term baby. The procedure was successful, but sadly, a few days later, both mother and baby died.
The remarkable story, detailed in The Sloth Diaries on the Sloth Institute Costa Rica site, begins on September 27, when a local hotel employee witnessed a three-toed sloth fall from a tree. The adult brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus) was taken to the Kids Saving the Rainforest wildlife rescue clinic, where Sam Trull from the Sloth Institute discovered that the injured female was pregnant. She hadn’t fractured her skull, but she did have a seizure and wasn’t moving much. When she started showing signs of labor and an hour-long contraction that didn’t result in a baby, Trull brought the sloth momma to a veterinarian in nearby Herradura.
CT scans and X-rays revealed that the baby was breeched -- feet-first, rather than head-first -- and because the mother was holding onto urine and feces in her abdominal cavity, the baby likely wasn’t going to change its position. After using an ultrasound machine to confirm the baby’s heartbeat and exact position, a team of vets decided to perform what’s believed to be the first-ever sloth c-section on October 1.
In order to reach the uterus, they first had to remove over 100 milliliters of urine from the mother’s bladder (sloths can hold up to 30 percent of their body weight in waste over the course of a week). Once the womb was located, the vets successfully extracted the baby from the anaesthetized mom in a 30-minute procedure. They removed fetal fluids that might restrict the baby’s airways and cleaned intrauterine tissue out of the claws. To increase the baby’s body temperature, Trull held her “skin-to-skin” against her own chest. Here is a photo of the mother and baby a couple days after the operation.
Because of her neurological problems, the mother couldn’t feed or take care of her baby properly, and the baby had a heart murmur and possible lung and feeding problems, BBC reports. The baby died on October 8. The mother suffered a stroke and died the next day. "It was devastating but not entirely surprising," Trull tells BBC. “I was at least able to unite mother and baby before they died, so it might not have been a very long life but at least it was a life."
Images: Sam Trull