Watch A Sloth Fight An Ocelot – And Win!

An underdog versus a top cat.


Ben Taub


Ben Taub

Freelance Writer

Benjamin holds a Master's degree in anthropology from University College London and has worked in the fields of neuroscience research and mental health treatment.

Freelance Writer

Ocelot sloth

Researchers later confirmed that the sloth was not eaten.

Image credit: Bastidas-Domínguez et al./Food Webs

In one of the greatest upsets of all time, an unfancied sloth has recorded an unlikely victory against a feline predator. Known for their ponderous movements and dopey charm, sloths aren’t exactly built for combat – but as one ocelot found out in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the tree-dwelling dawdlers can pack a punch.

The bout was captured by a camera trap at a mineral lick - or "saladero" - at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in August 2022. Saladeros are areas of mineral-rich earth where animals come to feed directly on the soil.


Boreal species like sloths, spider monkeys, and howler monkeys are known to descend from the safety of the treetops to visit mineral licks, despite the risk of coming into contact with predators. Large cats, for instance, have been observed targeting saladeros in order to get their paws on prey that can’t be acquired elsewhere.

Despite the popularity of saladeros, sloths and ocelots are rarely seen at the hotspots, so to catch the two together was quite the surprise. “This is a super interesting video because it’s one of only a few times that a two-toed sloth has appeared in one of our camera trap videos and the only time that an ocelot has appeared,” said Professor Anthony Di Fiore from The University of Texas at Austin in a statement.

A new study about the encounter co-authored by Di Fiore describes “several biting attempts by the ocelot and the sloth fiercely defending itself.” According to the researchers, one section of the video “shows the sloth trying to escape at a considerably high speed (for a sloth).”

Ocelots are opportunistic hunters that will try and eat pretty much any animal they feel they have a chance against. Snakes, turtles, crabs, and small-to-medium-sized mammals are all fair game for the rare cats, and the sight of a sloth on the ground was clearly too good an opportunity to turn down for this particular ocelot.


Describing the footage, Di Fiore explains that “the ocelot first tries to bite the sloth from behind, on the neck, and the sloth turns over and swipes back at it.” Reeling from the sucker punch, the feline is later seen attacking the sloth’s hands but is knocked back each time.

The two combatants later leave the screen, leaving viewers unsure of the outcome. However, the study authors confirm that after visiting the scene of the encounter two days later, they found no bones, hair, or other remains that would indicate successful predation.

“Both two-toed sloths and ocelots are difficult animals to study,” says Di Fiore. “They are quiet, elusive and hard to find and observe in the wild. This video provides a snapshot of interesting aspects of the natural history of both species, showing a possible prey-predator relationship which has seldom been considered and showing diurnal activity for the predominantly nocturnal two-toed sloth.”

Based on this evidence, the judges would have to award the fight to the sloth on points. 


The study is published in the journal Food Webs.


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  • ocelots,

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