Wildlife Rescue

In Suriname, we meet an organization that rescues wildlife. How does that also help our own survival?

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In Domburg, a small town just south of Suriname’s capital Paramaribo, we meet Monique Pool. She is the founder of the NGO Green Heritage Fund Suriname (GHFS) and locally known as the “sloth lady.” A Domburg resident called the organisation’s emergency number when she spotted a sloth in her garden. The wild animal usually lives in treetops and only comes down to defecate, about once a week. Monique knows why the sloth is in the garden. “Trees were cleared in the neighbourhood,” she explains. “The animals that lived in them had to find new homes. The sloth is always the last one to flee because it moves so slowly. That’s when we come in. We try to catch it, examine it, and relocate it to a safe area.”

Monique walks into the garden armed with a large net, a portable dog crate, and oversized gloves. The resident points at a tall tree. “I saw the sloth climb this tree,” she says. We peer up but see only leaves and branches. Monique has trouble detecting a sloth too, so she grabs a camera with a big lens. She zooms in, takes photos, examines them. “There, close to the trunk!” Monique has spotted the animal. We huddle around her and follow her finger. Indeed, high among the leaves a grey ball of hair with a light brown face stares back at us. A sloth, unmistakably!

Sloth Wellness Center

What now? “The tree is too high for me to climb, so we have to come back when it comes down,” Monique decides. “This sloth is a three-toed sloth, which only eats leaves from two types of trees. This tree is not one of them, so it will come down to look for food. When it does, we will take it to our wellness center.” A wellness center for sloths? We need to see that!

It’s where we visit Monique a few days later. Just outside the village of Groningen, an hour outside the capital, we drive into a large, wooded area. Signs caution visitors to drive slowly, as sloths may be crossing the driveway. The driveway ends at a two-story wooden building. The organisation’s white vans with “Sloth Rescue” stickers are parked in front of it. Monique welcomes us and gives an update on the Domburg sloth. “Thanks to the attentive residents we were able to remove it from the garden, examine it, and release it in the forest. It’s nice that many people in Suriname know us and call us when they see a sloth in need.”

Her reputation as the sloth lady was established when she and her organisation saved more some 100 sloths at once, an event Monique describes as sloth armageddon or slothageddon. “Forest was cleared just outside Paramaribo to make room for houses. When the trees came down, sloths fell on the ground. More and more appeared. In the end, we rescued more than 100 sloths from that piece of land. They all needed a new home. Many volunteers and I looked after them until we could release them in the wild.”

Protected but Under Threat

“Why is it necessary to save sloths?” we ask. “Sloths are a protected species here in Suriname,” Monique explains. “Yet they face many threats. As slothageddon proved, one of the main threats is deforestation. Basically, we humans are moving into the city of animals, the forest. In the process, we destroy the animals’ homes. Forest is also cleared for agriculture, mining, or timber production. The more forest is destroyed, the more difficult it becomes for sloths to find spots where the canopies connect. Sloths need that cover to move from tree to tree.”

“We humans are moving into the city of animals, the forest. In the process, we destroy the animals’ homes.”


“Another result of urbanization is that roads and power lines intersect the sloths’ habitat. Sloths are slow to cross roads, so they are prone to get hit by cars, and they can get electrocuted by power lines. Sloths are most vulnerable on the ground. When the trees disappear, we need to help them move somewhere else. Of course, that process causes these animals a lot of stress, too,” Monique continues.

“Another threat is a warmer climate. Sloths get all their moisture from the food they eat. As droughts are lasting longer because of climate change, sloths are not getting enough water and in severe cases that leads to dehydration. Of course, being dehydrated is not conducive to their wellbeing and may keep them from functioning properly.”

“Despite their protected status, sloths are also hunted for food. Other people keep them as pets, for which they are not suited at all. They need a specific diet, levels of humidity and temperature, and specialist care, as they are susceptible to stress. Their heart rate is normally very slow, but stress can lead to higher heart rates and long-term damage.”

An Audience with the Ambassadors

“We try to help them with this Wellness Center!” Monique beams as she leads us around. “It has two purposes. Rescued sloths can catch their breath here, eat in peace and receive any necessary medical care before we release them back into the wild. Between the place where we release them and the border with Brazil is nothing but forest.”

“The center’s other purpose is to educate. We need for the local population to understand sloths better, so they can help protect them. We aim to achieve that by showing them our work and giving them an opportunity to see sloths in a safe environment,” Monique explains. “Actually, there should be a sloth in one of the trees around the center”, she adds. Our excitement level rises as we walk around the grounds. We keep our eyes peeled for the furry creatures, yet as in Domburg, our spotting efforts yield no success. We see only see treetops, even when Monique’s colleague points to a sloth and its young high up in the canopy. They truly are masters of camouflage.

Then Monique takes us to a spacious enclosure that houses an inquisitive three-toed sloth. It hangs on the fence and seems as curious about us as we are about it. “This sloth was illegally kept as a pet from an early age. Its nails have been filed and it still has scars from the string to which it was tied. It is so used to people that it probably wouldn’t survive in the wild,” Monique explains. “That is why you can get so close now.”

Monique next shows us a defining feature of sloths, their wrists. “When sloths hang from trees, they lock their wrists instead of using muscles. That’s why it is no effort for them to hang for days on end. Two other groups of animals have the same abilities, anteaters and armadillos. Together, they constitute the superorder of Xenarthra.” The wellness center caters to anteaters and armadillos as well, but as their habitat is further inland, the center only sporadically houses them.

We also get to admire a two-toed sloth. This species is much larger and more active. It can even get aggressive, so it is quite a treat for us get close to one. “This one keeps coming back to us, even though we released it. It apparently likes it here,” Monique explains. “These two sloths are great ambassadors”, she adds with a smile.

Beautiful and Useful Animals

Monique has been committed to nature for decades. “I love animals,” she says when we ask her what drives her. “It started with one injured sloth that I took home to care for. One thing led to another. In 2005 I founded GHFS. Volunteers joined and we received donations for the construction and maintenance of the rescue center,” says Monique. She stresses the importance of wildlife for the forest. “Sloths are not only beautiful, but also useful animals. They play an important role in the ecosystem of Suriname because they disperse tree seeds. If the sloth is doing well, the forest is doing well,” she explains. “And vice versa. Sloths and other wildlife need a healthy forest to thrive. In other words, to rescue wild animals we are foremost committed to preserving the forest.”

“We cannot live without nature, but nature can live without us.”


Monique says that although Suriname is a country with a very high percentage of forest cover, the forest is under threat from urbanization and exploitation for timber and minerals. Indeed, some value the forest only in economic terms and disregard its ecological benefits. “People don’t realize sufficiently how dependent we humans are on nature. We cannot live without nature, but nature can live without us,” she stresses. She views it as an important part of her work to shift people’s perspective and let them see how we benefit from a healthy ecosystem.

Clean Waterways for Guiana Dolphins

Monique’s commitment extends beyond sloths and the forest, as we witness a few days later on a boat trip on the Suriname River. “Years ago, I was on a boat on my way to the beach at Braamspunt. Guiana dolphins jumped out of the water, displaying their pink bellies. They were so beautiful and playful. When I learned that they were under threat, I thought, what can I do?” Monique says. “Pollution and dredging are serious threats for the dolphins, so we started doing scientific research. Since 2005 we have been taking samples to measure the water quality and temperature. We also observe where the dolphins are and how they behave. We take guests on the boat trips to teach them about dolphins and the importance of the ecosystems of the Suriname River estuary. They also provide the funds to pay the drivers,” Monique explains while her colleague takes water samples and writes down the test results in a notebook. Almost on cue, dolphins appear close to the boat, causing everyone on board to cheer.

After the dolphin show we moor at Braamspunt beach. With the Suriname River on one side of the peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, a lot of rubbish washes up here. It is a nightmare for animals, including the sea turtles that dig their nests here. One of GHFS’s volunteers hands out bags to the guests, who all start cleaning the beach. In no-time the bags are filled with washed-up plastic debris. “Beach cleaning has immediate rewards,” Monique says. “The beach has less plastic, of course, but the activity also engages people. They realise what consequences our consumerism has on nature. We try to show them how beautiful and special our dolphins and sea turtles are, so they appreciate them more. After all, if you love something, you want to protect it. And when you learn to love animals, you want to protect biodiversity.” Monique is a case in point. Through her initiatives to rescue wild animals she also inspires many others to follow her lead.

Rescuing Wild Animals Is Rescuing Ourselves

Monique reminds us that rescuing wild animals is about much more than the survival of the animals concerned. Just as the sloth depends on a tree to live in, and the dolphin on clean river water, we humans depend on healthy ecosystems for our basic needs. We need clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. We need healthy soil and a clean sea for healthy food. We need a stable climate for our well-being. We share this unique planet with countless other life forms, all of which play an important role in our ecosystem and all of which have as much right to life as we do.

“And don’t think that what you do in Europe or the USA has no influence here,” Monique adds. “Climate breakdown has no boundaries. Global consumption, emissions, and pollution also have consequences here. Everything is connected. I therefore challenge everyone to take a closer look at their consumption: do you need everything? What do you do with your waste? And please avoid single-use plastics! It’s disastrous for nature and therefore also for humans. If things are going well for the wild animals, things are going well for us,” Monique summarizes her mission. In other words: If you rescue wildlife, you ultimately rescue yourself!

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