By Rebecca Cooley
A sloth mum and her first baby are incredibly bonded and attached at the hip after a difficult birth that put both of their lives at risk.
An ultrasound of Fiona the six-year-old, two-toed Linnaeus sloth confirmed that she was pregnant after mating with the male sloth that shares her enclosure – six-year-old Westley.
Baby Beany was born at a whopping 691 grams – almost double the average of 350 to 400 grams for baby sloths – resulting in a difficult birth for first-time mum.
Fiona had to be put to sleep with anaesthesia and assisted by the vet in delivering her giant baby.
Zookeeper Jennifer Hennessy, 47, said: “During the labour we weren’t sure if the baby was still alive so we were all really concerned.
“There was a big sigh of relief when Fiona came around from the anaesthesia and immediately started licking and cleaning Beany and making a bond with her.
“We weren’t sure with it being her first baby and her not being awake for the birth how well she would bond with her baby but she’s been a wonderful mom from the start.
“They spend most of their time belly to belly cuddling and sleeping. They love each other so much.
“We regularly weigh Beany and she happily comes to us for a grape but once we’re done she’s so excited to get back to Fiona she practically jumps off the stuffed teddy as quick as a sloth can move.”
The pair live together in a rainforest enclosure in Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island.
The American Humane certified zoo is located amid 40 acres of woodlands and creates naturalistic habitats for more than 160 species from around the world.
Beany was not only Fiona’s first baby but also the first baby sloth to be born at the zoo.
Zookeeper Jennifer, who has cared for animals at the facility for over 21 years, said: “At the first ultrasound the vet suspected she was pregnant but we weren’t able to get a good enough look to confirm.
“Sloths can be really tricky to examine because of the way their anatomy works and their natural position is hanging upside down.
“My role during the ultrasound was to keep her happy and occupied eating her treats – her favourites are grapes and hibiscus flowers.
“At the second ultrasound two weeks later the vet managed to get a clear view of the uterus from the side and confirm that there was a little baby bean in there.”
Ten months later, Fiona went into labour while the zoo was closed due to the pandemic.
The vet monitored her remotely through a camera but became concerned when she hadn’t made any progress after a few hours.
Jennifer said: “We brought her to the zoo hospital under anaesthesia and we could see baby Beany’s head and tongue but she wasn’t coming out.
“The vet had to help pull baby Beany out a little bit with each contraction.
“The problem was that Beany was just too big – there was no way that Fiona would have been able to deliver on her own.”
Staff were concerned that the baby might not survive due to the difficult labour and Beany’s size also risked Fiona’s health.
After over an hour of easing the baby out, Beany finally made her arrival but was not moving at first.
Jennifer said: “I flipped her onto her tummy, which is the natural position for baby sloths, and then thankfully she started moving around.
“The first week after being born she started losing weight but once we started giving her some green beans to supplement Fiona’s milk she gained weight and is now a happy, healthy girl.
“She and Fiona are inseparable, they do everything together. They’ve even synced when they go to the bathroom.
“We’ve started doing ultrasounds on Fiona again to monitor if she gets pregnant again and Beany stays cuddled up on top of her during it – they’re attached at the hip.”