Sloth, of course!

Image courtesy of National Geographic

“Sloths” was another response to the question about which animal in THE CAPITAL ZOO you’d like to get to know, and I need to back up to explain the sloth thing properly…

Contrary to yesterday’s post extolling the virtues of YouTube research, the absolute best research I did involved interviewing a real, live person: the chief of exotic animal medicine at the vet school attached to the university where I work.

A librarian told me that he was a nice guy who might be willing to help me, so I emailed him essentially out of the blue. It must have sounded fairly crazy, a would-be novelist asking to discuss his job and zoos and a very particular question about a specific animal sedative. He was amused and easy-going and up for answering anything. In fact, he struck me as the essence of a good teacher: kind, generous, open, curious… he was willing to take considerable time out of his schedule to advance knowledge about a subject he’s passionate about, and to help someone else with no real benefit for himself.

Gratuitious photo of a sloth, from

We met in person that first time and then I must have emailed him a dozen times with more and more questions, many of which started with “is it plausible that __________.” He always responded quickly and gave me a bunch of amazing ideas. One of the reasons on the long long list of why I’d like to get this book published is to publicly, properly, thank him for his help.

Another gratuitious photo of a sloth from, because look at that FACE

Sloths appear in the book partly because my vet source mentioned them as an aside during our first conversation. I can’t remember the exact context, but it made me curious, and I went and looked them up and was totally taken by them.

The Capital Zoo keeps some two-toed sloths, which are loners and spend most of their time hanging from trees, upside down. They’re the world’s slowest-moving mammal — so slow-moving, in fact, that algae grows on their fur and acts as camouflage in the forest. They sleep a lot, up to 20 hours a day, and apparently it really feels as though they’re hugging you when you pick one up.

And, objectively speaking, sloths are adorable (but stay away from those massive claws) and generally awesome. I mean, look at this face:

Image courtesy of