Exchanging poo with a prospective roommate might seem like an odd idea to a human, but not to a sloth! Swapping stools is exactly what Drusillas Park’s keepers in Alfriston have been doing to help their two lovely sloths, Flash and Consuela, get to know each other.
After a year of being hand-reared by Head Keeper Mark Kenward and Zoo Keeper Gemma Romanis, little Flash has reached the age where she needs to become independent and familiar with her own species. Her new roommate Consuela is just 2 months older and arrived at Drusillas last month.
In order to prepare the two for their future living arrangements, Drusillas’ keepers spent a week exchanging faeces between the two sloths’ enclosures.
Head Keeper, Mark Kenward said, “Smell is an incredibly important sense for animals. Poo in particular provides a little parcel of information about the animal who left it. It’s a bit like a postage stamp as to who has been around.
“This sort of olfactory enrichment gives the impression of another sloth being in the area, and prepares each of them for an encounter. We call this a soft introduction. They learn enough about the other to be comfortable meeting face to face.”
Once the poo swap had run its course, the two sloths were placed next to each other with a mesh divider separating them. Able not just to smell but to see, hear and nearly touch their new neighbour, Consuela and Flash started to get used to each other.
Mark commented, “The faeces exchange has been a huge success. We will definitely be doing introductions like this again in the future. Now the mesh divider has gone we keep finding Consuela in Flash’s nest box!
“They are still a bit nervous of each other but they are getting along well. Consuela is much more chilled than Flash is, she just happily barges into Flash’s box to socialise, whilst Flash shoots us a look as if to say ‘Oi! Do you know she’s in my box again?’”
Eventually, they will be moved into a brand new South American themed enclosure, living alongside other animals native to their natural habitat. The bespoke new enclosure, opening later in the year, will feature pygmy marmosets, red-footed tortoises, green iguanas and the sloths.
The youngsters are happily keeping each other company and Drusillas is thrilled with the bond forming between the two. Once they are fully settled together they will be moving out into a more public home. But for now, they are living behind the scenes quietly making friends.