This is a rare story of a smartphone contributing to something wholesome.
Earlier this year, tourists trekking the picturesque curve of Playa Cocles in Costa Rica made the distressing discovery of a lone baby sloth, covered in sand and ants.
Realizing the mother was nowhere in sight, they brought the small brown-throated three-toed sloth to Jaguar Rescue Center, a local nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation organization.
While the center’s vet assessed the youngster – whom they estimated to be only a few weeks old – volunteers set out to comb the trees lining the beach for signs of her presence. But she was not found.
Knowing that the mom, if alive, literally could not have gotten far after the two were separated, biologist and rescue center founder Encar Garcia turned to a simple and reliable trick.
According to National Geographic, Garcia recorded the baby sloth cries on her phone, then transferred the audio files to a portable speaker that the volunteers could play back into the field.
After a long morning and afternoon spent blasting the sad sloth soundtrack into the surrounding forest, the volunteers ecstatically spotted an adult sloth descending low on a tree trunk. Like other sloth species, brown-throated sloths spend most of their lives high in the forest canopy, and they only lower themselves to the ground to defecate (about once a week!) or cross tree clearings such as roads.
“The volunteers were very excited and said, ‘We got one that’s climbing down, and looking around like crazy,'" Garcia told NatGeo.
She arrived on the scene with the baby sloth bundled in a towel. When the two were presented to each other, the baby immediately climbed onto the mother and wrapped itself around her. After a few sniffs, she appeared to nuzzle it back.
If both fare well, the baby will continue to hitch a ride until it is about six months old, though it will have started eating leaves following just four to five weeks of nursing.
Garcia claims that the speaker-blasting method has reunited many separated sloth families over the years.
And because a wide range of mammalian mothers possesses the ability to quickly recognize a baby’s cry among other background sounds, it’s likely the technique would work for many other species as well.
One confirmed example? A family in Santa Cruz, California, successfully lured a squirrel to come retrieve her newborn baby that had fallen from a tree in their backyard by playing a YouTube video of another squirrel's cries.
[H/T: National Geographic]