Is It Legal to Own a Sloth in the U.S.?

A baby sloth at the Sloth Sanctuary in Penshurst, Costa Rica, in 2012. 

Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImages

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Answer by Mercedes R. Lackey, owned by 12 parrots, a starling, five cats, and eight peafowl:

No, no, no, NO. Do not get a pet sloth. Wild animals make very poor pets. Before you even consider any exotic animal, you need to ask the following questions.

Do you already have a vet within a 45-minute drive of your house lined up who is willing to treat your sloth? If not, is your regular vet willing to put in the extra time after work to study how to treat it? If the answer to this is no, then you cannot have a pet sloth. Most vets will refuse to treat an exotic animal even if it is dying. Sloths have extremely particular digestive systems, and they generally don’t display illness until they are very sick indeed.

Are you willing to go without vacation for as long as the sloth lives? If you get a permit, your permit will only cover you and the address of your home. You cannot get a pet-sitter. There are no boarding facilities for sloths. The zoo will not take it while you go on vacation. You cannot take it with you, because your permit only covers where you live, not anywhere else. If you cross state lines with it, your permit will no longer cover you, and the sloth will be confiscated.

What will you do if you get sick or hurt? Your permit only covers you. If the authorities discover that you are no longer in control of your sloth, they will confiscate it, they will have no idea of what it needs, and it will probably die because they tried to feed it dog food.

Your sloth will need a temperature of 85-plus degrees F and humidity of 80 percent. Are you willing to raise your home temperature to that? Are you aware of what that high a humidity will do to your furniture, carpet, and books? The sloth needs these conditions to be healthy; it is a rainforest animal.

Your sloth will need a huge enclosure. And it will poop all over the enclosure. You cannot housebreak a sloth. This means you will be cleaning up sloth poop several times a day. In 85 degree heat and 80 percent humidity. Imagine what your house, your clothing, and you are going to smell like.

Do you know you will have to make several small batches of fresh food every day for it? Sloths are browsers; they don’t eat one big meal. You cannot get Purina sloth chow at Walmart. Most of what you buy will not come from the grocery store (and no, the sloth cannot eat the leaves on your trees). This will be time-consuming and expensive.

And lastly, there are very few (if any!) genuine sloth breeders in the U.S. This means that any sloth you get will have a very high probability of being illegally imported. Do you know how baby sloths are taken from the wild? Their mothers are shot dead, and the babies are torn from their backs, and the dead mothers are sold for meat. Do you want a sloth so badly you are willing to be a part of that?

Anyone who claims “he has heard” there is a “sloth rescue market” is not telling the truth. Rescued sloths are not shipped out of the country for the pet trade. Rescued sloths are generally cared for by rehabbers and sanctuaries in the area the sloth comes from so they can be released at adulthood into the wild, and people who are not “rehabbers” who have purchased “rescued” sloths are purchasing baby sloths whose mothers have been slaughtered. This same person who is claiming things like “he has heard there are sloth biscuits” that make it easy to feed sloths knows nothing about sloths, and if you challenge him, like Donald Trump, he will defend himself with “well that’s what he heard.”

To answer your question, yes, you can get a sloth with a non-transferable permit. But why would you want to, given all that?

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