You’ve heard of cat cafes and goat yoga, but what about… sloth encounters? That’s a new offering at the NOVA Wild zoo in Reston, which recently welcomed a new pair of two-toed sloths—aptly named Siesta and Slomo—to its campus.
For $100 per person, groups of up to four people can spend fifteen minutes inside the sloth habitat with a zookeeper, who will share information about their diet (they love leafy greens), behaviors (they poop about once a week), and conservation status. While sloth populations are stable at the moment, two-toed sloths are nonetheless “in serious danger of losing their habitat due to logging of rainforests,” according to the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
“It’s one of those animals you will never encounter in your day-to-day, so it’s an opportunity to really see their fur and how good algae grows on them as well as all their little features, such as their teeth, their nails and their fingers,” said Joe Fego, the zoo’s guest services manager. Fego added that NOVA Wild eventually plans to bring more sloths into the newly built habitat.
The Northern Virginia zoo reopened as NOVA Wild last winter under its new leader, Tara Campbell Lussier, a realtor and entrepreneur who says she’s been running it with an “animals first” policy. The zoo, previously known as Reston Zoo and Roer’s Zoofari, had a tumultuous past under its previous two sets of owners. In 2021, two giraffes died in a barn fire, prompting an online petition that demanded the zoo shut down. In 2013, a former director of the zoo pled guilty to animal cruelty after a former employee accused her of drowning a wallaby.
Under Lussier’s leadership, the zoo, an accredited nonprofit, says it’s hired new vets and an animal welfare expert and is now accredited by the Zoological Association of America as well as America Humane, according to WTOP. In addition to meeting the sloths, other animal encounters at the zoo currently include one-on-one visits with a capybara, a baby kangaroo, and an anteater. During the encounters, Fego said, “the keeper guides [visitors] the whole time that they’re there, so nobody has free rein to just do whatever they want.”
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