Visitors will be able to meet up close with two of the Hattiesburg Zoo’s friendliest sloths, Chewie and Maple, at the zoo’s third annual Sloth-A-Thon event on Saturday, Oct. 2, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Guests will also have the opportunity to enjoy donuts from Shipley Do-Nuts, beer from Stokes Distributing, a slow-paced race, games and more.
While the tree-climbing sloths are the highlight of the event, visitors will also be able to see tortoises and other slower-moving animals during the festivities. The two sloths will be out in different parts of the zoo for roughly an hour, but will be up on perches. Guests
will not be able to pet the sloths as they were able to during the event’s inaugural year because the animals are susceptible to COVID-19, assistant animal curator Kristen Moore says.
“Even if they can’t pet them, the late hour will mean visitors can see the sloths at a time when they’re more active, since they are nocturnal and are usually asleep during the day,” Moore says. “The sloths we have here are all Hoffman’s two-toed sloths, which are different from the three-toed variety most folks are probably familiar with. They lack the mask-like facial markings and can move and climb much faster during the night than people might think. They’re all used to people and should be pretty lively during the event.”
Get to Know the Guests of Honor
Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are native to Central and South America. In the wild, they mainly eat high-fiber leaves, fruits and vegetables, and have sharp teeth for tearing leaves off trees. Their fur grows back-to-front rather than front-to-back to keep rainforest water off their bodies, and often have algae growing on their fur due to the humid climate, which they can also eat. Due to their slow metabolisms, sloths usually only come down from the trees to use the bathroom once per week, Moore says.
The Hattiesburg Zoo’s oldest sloth, Chewie—which is short for Chewbacca—is an adult male and is roughly 8 to 10 years old and weighs about 30 pounds, which makes him larger than typical two-toed sloths, Moore says. A family in Hattiesburg donated him to the zoo in 2014 after unsuccessfully trying to keep him as a pet.
“Sloths are not suitable to keep as pets because they need very specific environmental conditions to stay healthy,” Moore says. “They need a humid environment of roughly 90 degrees and require a high-fiber, low-sugar diet because of their very slow metabolism. The family that had been keeping Chewie realized they couldn’t provide what he needed, but because he was handled a lot when he was younger it means Chewie has a calm demeanor and likes getting attention from people, more than any of the other sloths do.”
The zoo’s other three sloths are an adult female named Molasses, or Moe for short, who is 6 years old, and Chewie and Moe’s two daughters, Maple and Mochi, who are 3 years old and 9 months old, respectively. Only Chewie and Maple will be out during the Sloth-A-Thon event.
Zoo staff clean the sloth enclosure and change out their perching during the day while the animals are asleep and feed them last out of all the animals in the zoo, Moore says. The sloths also get physicals once per year.
Interact with Chewie’s Family Via Sloth Cam
For people who want to get up close and personal with the animals, the Hattiesburg Zoo usually offers a smaller-scale sloth experience throughout the year, although the experience is on hiatus due to COVID-19 concerns. The event is $100 per person and is open to only six people at a time. Visitors can help prepare the sloths’ food as well as feed and hold them. While the sloth experience is not currently available, the zoo plans to begin scheduling it again later in 2022, guest services and retail director Demetric Kelly says.
People who are unavailable to attend the event or who otherwise would like to see Chewie, Moe, Maple and Mochi can do so virtually from the convenience of their desktops or mobile devices, as the zoo also maintains a “sloth cam” in the sloths’ enclosure, which is active 24 hours a day and allows viewers to see the animals during the night when they are most active. The live feed is available here.
A ‘Race’ Through the Zoo
The Sloth-A-Thon will feature a 0.5k “race” through the zoo, with two donut stations and one beer station along the route offering free samples for participants. Additional food and beverages will be available for purchase during the event, including donut burgers at the zoo’s dining areas, Safari Grill and Ladha’s Cantina.
Visitors will also be able to enjoy unlimited rides on the “Slow-Time-Train” and “Creep-Along Carousel,” outdoor games such as cornhole, giant Jenga and Connect Four, and music courtesy of DJ Milkstache. The zoo will also hold a lazy-themed costume contest and a foam party at the zoo’s Splash Pad throughout the event.
Tickets for the Sloth-A-Thon are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. The event is for people ages 21 and older only. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hattiesburgzoo.com or click here.