Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ZWCC and The Sloth Center – Saving the World One Animal at a Time

Meet Fenway, one of the sloth ambassadors
for ZWCC's Ed-zoocation Station program
Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, or ZWCC is a facility in rural Columbia County Oregon that’s home to a surprisingly diverse cross section of endangered wildlife.  Last month, while on a freelance assignment for our local paper I was fortunate enough to spend several hours there.  As a natural tree-hugger, it was an experience that altered me in ways I never expected.  

ZWCC operates out of the same location as The Sloth Center, a successful captive breeding program for two-fingered sloths.  Three-fingered sloths don’t survive captivity. There are three colonies of sloths at The Sloth Center including an ambassador colony who, by virtue of their tolerance of man, serve to educate those of us who are fortunate enough to visit them.  These facilities are not public zoos for entertainment purposes, nor are they rescues centers.  Everything that happens here is for the sole benefit of the wild residents and because of that philosophy they thrive.

Staff of The Sloth Center and ZWCC quietly go about the job
Fenway being admired
of saving the refuges from wide scale deforestation one animal at a time.  They’ve been doing this for two generations, working long hours at physically demanding jobs.  With little to no notice, they are called to jump on a plane and head for Central, or South America to save animals from an area before the forest is cleared.  I learned frightening statistics from these people such as ninety percent of Madagascar’s forests are gone and that there are at least sixty species and subspecies of lemurs who won’t survive.

Louisa is a black and white, ruffed lemur from Madagascar,
 saved from being put down at another facility
ZWCC’s educational center hosts a program called, “Ed-zoo-cation Station.” Here visitors learn about the rapidly disappearing environments of the ZWCC residents.  You can watch all the Animal Planet shows and undersea exploration documentaries you want, but no matter how engaged and educated you become it’s quite different to have to look these guys in the face and know that owl monkeys are used for eye research, that penguins  constantly run afoul of plastic garage drifting in our oceans and that there is only one wolf pack allowed to exist in the state of Oregon.  These guys aren’t cute, animated depictions of wildlife in crisis – they are the real thing.

The Sloth Center fields an average of three to five calls per
a mata mata turtle, or 'side-necked turtle'
Not cute and furry perhaps, but every bit as endangered
day regarding sloths.  Unfortunately, most of these calls are from people who want to know where and how they can obtain one as a household pet.  Staff at the center is very blunt on this point.  Try having a sloth for a pet and the animal will die. Sloths have very tricky digestive systems, their natural bacteria has to be carefully balanced and their acceptable food is very limited. No, they don’t eat melons and bananas, nor should they.  They eat very specific vegetation, though they can eat chopped zucchini and other approved substances. They move so slowly because their bodies have virtually no body fat and their food intake isn’t stored.  Facility workers monitor the colonies daily to make certain they are healthy.  

Alejandro, an adult male arctic tundra wolf is a wolf ambassador.
He is affectionate and loves a good cuddle.  He can also
crash a skull in a single bite – hence the loose muzzle and cables.
Still wild, folks.
To be clear, there is only one colony of sloths that you are able to visit and then only under strictly controlled circumstances.  Sloths don’t tolerate humans well.  They get nervous.  We are loud and we move too quickly and there are simply too many of us. Sloths are gentle creatures with very poor eyesight.  Lemurs on the other hand have boundless energy and often tremble with excitement longing to set off to explore the world around them.  ZWCC is the first place I’ve ever seen wolves that don’t pace back and forth is a small enclosure.  They roam in a large compound, bounding and playing.  

When you see all of these animals up close you can’t help
Buttan is a malaysian fishing cat.  Here he's sitting in a large
tub of water batting at pinecones. He's the size of a mid-size dog
being saddened by their plight and the lack of responsibility of those who have so much in life and who choose not to share with those less fortunate.  After all, nations that are actively practicing deforestation of natural habitats and displacement of their wildlife are not doing so because they are mean and vicious.  They do so to take care of their citizens.  In the battle to feed a village, or save wildlife, wildlife is going to lose.  It’s past time to look seriously for alternatives to assist nations who struggle to support their populations. In the meantime, places like ZWCC and The Sloth Center will continue saving small corners of the world as best they can.

NOTE: While these animals are in areas of a general compound, they are not caged.  


Here are links to ZWCC and The Sloth Center.  Yes, you can visit, but reservations are required. Check out their sponsorship page and the sleepover camps with the wolf pack or sloth colony! Support these guys!

Alejandro, just before he leapt on me, covered me in wolf kisses and tried to take my hat.
He is amazing and so filled with love and curiosity. Again, he's in a compound, not a cage, where he
and his pack are very happy together.

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