Following a very pleasant boat trip to the meeting of the waters with guests Alexander and son Jan, we were on our way back from the marina along a road that cuts through some jungle. Rounding a bend in the road, we were confronted by a small, three-toed sloth sprawled in the middle of the road like an old unravelling sweater (although they are good swimmers and excellent tree climbers, they can hardly walk at all). Since there was other traffic on the road toing and froing between the marinas and the main Avenida, the likelihood was that the critter would soon be squashed. But never fear! The Maguires are here! I leapt out of the car, while Naice put the hazard warning lights on and sounded the horn for the benefit of the other drivers. This was my first mistake. I rushed to the sloth and picked it up somewhat like you might pick up a child – that is to say face-to-face, securing the beastie with my hands under it’s armpits. This was my second mistake. Now it’s difficult to suppress one’s anthropomorphising tendencies when face to face with a cute little smiling face, slow-blinking brown eyes and big long arms waving about in distress. And for this reason, it took a few moments for me to critically analyse the hissing growl the little dear was emitting. And this was my third mistake.
This was one angry sloth, let me tell you, who obviously resented what to him must have seemed a wholly unnecessary intervention. So he did what any self-respecting angry sloth would do, and gripped me firmly with his toes. Not the sort of grip reserved for hanging around for days in trees, but the sort of gripped reserved for when your enemy comes at you with a sharp set of teeth. So he got me around both elbows and started to apply the pressure. The toes slowly sank into my skin and the blood rather more quickly started to pour out. Seeing this was a winning gambit, he endeavoured to get his legs into my sides, too. I started pushing him away with a force roughly equal to the force he was applying to draw me closer, so I found myself more or less strangling him, while his toes – nicely embedded now – started gouging out chunks of flesh. Another motorist stopped at this point, wound his window down, and shouted helpfully “watch out for his toes”. “Yes – thanks – I will,” I replied through gritted teeth.
Anyway, I managed to loosen my grip on him a little, and stop trying to push him away (it’s a bit like making yourself take your foot off the brake when your car starts to skid on the ice – sort of counter-intuitive), and rushed to the nearest shrubbery (as one does). Thrusting the two of us among the branches, all I could hope for was that he would prefer hanging on to a branch than crushing my arms. Fortunately I was right, and as soon as he lessened his grip on one of my arms I managed to spin him around a bit and direct the other limbs to other branches. And we parted company – he growling away to himself, and me trying to get some circulation back into my arms without leaving armfuls of blood on the road.
So there you have it. I doubt there are too many people who can claim to have been attacked by a sloth (or at least who would admit to it). I can’t say I’m proud of it, really, but I survived and learnt something. And now I can pass on this sage advice to those of you seeking the answer to your sloth-concerns: never pick up an angry sloth from the front.