What's New at the JMZ?

May 16, 2023

Hello Friends,

I’m delighted to share that Luna, a sloth, has arrived at the zoo! Luna’s name means “moon” in Spanish. She was given this name because her light fur reminded JMZ staff of moonlight in her natural habitat, the rainforest. As Luna acclimates to her new environment, she will be available to visit in the Wildlife Circle Tuesdays through Thursdays from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. You can read more about this incredible animal and the opportunity to sponsor sloths as permanent residents in the zoo in the interview with John Aikin, JMZ Executive Director, below. 

I hope you will join the Friends for our next community event on Tuesday, May 23 from 3 - 4 p.m. in honor of World Turtle Day. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet Edward and other turtles at the JMZ. The event is free with admission; please remember to purchase tickets to the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo in advance. 

With summer fast approaching, staff at the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo are gearing up for a busy and exciting season. I look forward to seeing you at the JMZ soon!

Lauren Angelo

President, Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

The JMZ Welcomes Luna the Sloth!

Questions for John Aikin, JMZ Executive Director

Can you tell us about sloths and what makes them unique?

Sloths are incredibly interesting creatures. They can be divided into two groups: two-toed and three-toed. Our sloth, Luna, is a two-toed sloth from Guyana. Surprisingly, the two groups are not as closely related as scientists originally thought. The fossil record indicates giant ground sloths roamed North and South America during the Ice Age– some of these sloths weighed up to 3,000 pounds! Three different types of giant ground sloths have been found at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Sloths are related to some unlikely creatures, such as armadillos and anteaters.

In the wild, many sloths are green. This is due to algae that grows on their fur. Being green is advantageous in the wild because it helps camouflage sloths from predators. This algae feeds an ecosystem of organisms, most notably a moth that lays its eggs every time the sloth visits the forest floor. The tropics are full of these kinds of symbiotic relationships, and it is important for us to tell visitors to the JMZ about the interdependence many animals have on each other. Sloth fur is also well-suited for humid environments. Fur on the belly flows toward their backs, so that excess precipitation falls off when they are upside down.

Sloths spend most of their time upside down. Surprisingly, they don’t have many muscles in their legs and arms to keep them from falling. Instead, they hang from hook-like claws on the ends of their arms and legs. This takes little energy and not much strength. In order to stay secured to trees, sloths will often only take one limb off of a branch at a time, so that they always have three points of contact. Sloths are solitary creatures, but because different sloths have varied preferences on which leaves they consume, many can live in a small area. They don’t compete for the same food, so the diversity of the rainforest supports a dense population.

Luna hangs upside down from a branch in the Wildlife Circle.

Why did the JMZ decide to acquire a sloth?

We have explored ways to add mammals to the “Loose in the Zoo” experience even before we reopened. Conveniently, our Zoo Curator has a lot of experience working with sloths. A sloth is a great addition because they spend almost all of their time in trees, above visitors and out of reach, but still close enough to give a unique perspective.

Rainforests are a popular biome studied by elementary school students and sloths are often featured in these lessons. Luna will help reinforce these lessons in the zoo and classrooms when she can visit schools.

Children are familiar with sloths from the media, and often have preconceived ideas about them. We have all heard the stereotype that sloths are very slow! While it is true they are not particularly active animals, Luna, our sloth, shows a lot of curiosity, and is much faster than people might expect. However, Luna does sleep anywhere from around 15 to 18 hours a day, and is mostly nocturnal.

A close up photo of Luna as she explores new branches in the zoo.

When can we see the sloth? Tell us more about what visitors can expect during their visit. 

Right now, we are training our sloth Tuesday through Thursday in the Wildlife Circle from 3:30-4:30 p.m. until June 9. Luna really enjoys being outside and exploring the branches we’ve placed in the Wildlife Circle for her. So far, her favorite treats have been what we call “french fries.” These are really just sweet potatoes, zucchini, and carrots we cut into the shapes of french fries to give her as a reward. Sloths have a really powerful bite and sharp teeth, so if we are feeding her, it is important animal care staff keep their hands a safe distance from her mouth.

We don’t grab Luna when handling her. It is really important to us that she feels safe and respected when we train her. We let her exit her crate on her own time, and let her go back inside when she decides. So far, she has been comfortable in the Wildlife Circle for about an hour. We are hoping that the more familiar she becomes with the JMZ, the more time she will want to spend in the zoo. There are some acacia trees for her to climb and we are going to add more branches and a rope in front of the flamingos so that she has more space to explore. Luna will eventually visit schools as part of our education program.

Having Luna at the zoo allows us to talk about the interesting adaptations of sloths while further enhancing the “Loose in the Zoo” experience. Luna is on loan right now from another facility with multiple sloths. If your family is interested in sponsoring sloths as permanent residents at the zoo, please contact marie@friendsjmz.org for more details.

A member of the animal care staff prepares to feed Luna a "french fry."

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

info@friendsjmz.org | www.friendsjmz.org


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