Meet Danitsja, a Potty-Trained Sloth

Picture of a sloth using a toilet bowl
Danitsja, one of the many sloths rescued by Monique Pool, is the first to do her business in the toilet bowl. (Photo by Monique Pool)

By Lucy Cooke, NG Emerging Explorer

Sloths have something of a reputation for having eccentric bathroom habits, but this resident of a sanctuary in Suriname, really takes the … bidet.

When sloth conservationist Monique Pool rescued this particular sloth, named Danitsja, and brought her back to her sanctuary she discovered something totally extraordinary about her. When nature called, she would slowly crawl into Monique’s bathroom, gracefully and deliberately lower herself into the toilet and do her business in the bowl.

Portrait of a mature female sloth
Be glad that you are never likely to be waiting to use a restroom after her. (Photo by Monique Pool)

Monique was astounded. As founder of the Green Heritage Foundation she has rescued hundreds of sloths, but had never met one with such impeccable bathroom behavior.

In the wild, sloths spend their lives camouflaged high up in the forest canopy, but roughly once a week they descend from the safety of their treetop home to do their business at the base of a tree. This ritual had long puzzled zoologists but is now believed by many to be a form of communication. The chemical signals left in these bizarre bathroom trips may be involved in helping these normally solitary animals mark their territory or locate a mate.

Where had Danitsja’s peculiar pooping behavior come from?

In Peru, two-toed sloths have been documented climbing into a research station latrine, but the scientist that witnessed this freaky behavior believes the sloths were using the latrines to search for food. Thankfully Danitsja was using Monique’s loo to drop off goods, not pick them up.

The answer to Danitsja’s mysterious behavior was in her claws. She is a rare pale-throated Bradypus sloth and her three long curved claws had been neatly filed down. This was a big clue that she had been kept as a pet, which is illegal in Suriname, where sloths are protected against such cruelty. She had been discovered by a lady called Danitsja (hence the name), frightened and clinging to a fence post in her backyard. She had a problem with her eye where it looked as if she had been hit. She needed urgent care.

The sloth’s neatly filed claws made it clear she had been kept as a pet. (Photo by Monique Pool)

Monique’s sanctuary is essentially her home, where the sloths roam freely around the house until they are ready to be released back into the wild. Monique noticed that despite her trauma Danitsja was remarkably well adjusted to humans. So she decided to keep her separate from the other sloths.

“We kept her separate from the other animals that we had here, in the bathroom. That is when we noticed that she kept not just sitting in the toilet, but she even was capable of lifting the lid herself. It was clear that she had been taught how to use the toilet,” Monique recalled.

Many people believe that because sloths are slow they are also stupid. Danitsja proves how wrong they are. Not only had this super smart sloth learned how to use the use the bathroom like a human, but in Monique’s care it took her only two weeks to learn how to do her business like a normal wild sloth, outside at the base of a tree.

Picture of a mother sloth and baby in the trees
When Danitsja unexpectedly gave birth, Monique knew it was time to release her back into the wild. (Photo by Monique Pool)

Danitsja stayed with Monique for almost a year before producing a second surprise—a baby. That was when Monique knew it was time to release her back into the wild. “It was clear that the baby would stand the best chances of becoming a big healthy sloth in a naturally abundant environment,” she said.

Danitsja is just one of many sloths rescued by Monique every day. She urgently needs a proper place to do this important rehabilitation work. You can donate at the Green heritage Fund website.

Please help Monique give sloths like Danitsja the dignity and freedom they deserve and donate today.


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Meet the Author
Amy Bucci is a web producer for National Geographic. Her projects mainly cover National Geographic explorers, grantees and initiatives.