Becky Cliffe is a zoologist and PhD student at Swansea University, studying the adorable field of sloths. Her love for sloths further developed while spending five years researching the amount of orphaned animals suffering from deformities and albinism at the well known Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.
The 25-year-old believes these genetic problems are a result of pesticides sprayed on crops and a loss of habitat caused by inbreeding.
“Many people love sloths and find them very cute and cuddly but they don’t know what problems they’re facing,” Cliffe says. “As consumers people want to help but don’t realize the impact of buying products which have been sprayed with pesticides. It’s only until you go out to the rainforests that you see the affect it’s really having.”
Much of Cliffe’s research will offer concrete data to help protect future sloth generations.
“I think the biggest step in making a change is to do real science,” she notes.
Intrigued by animals since she was a child, when Cliffe’s parents would sit her in front of the television, she’d demand to sit outside instead.
“As long as I was outside with nature I was happy,” Cliffe says.
“I didn’t know a lot about sloths as they weren’t well studied, it was only when an opportunity to work with them came up through university that I learned about them,” Cliffe explains. “The more I learned, the more I became obsessed with them – they are my life.”
Despite sloths being known as a “lazy” animal, Cliffe notes they are actually very lively and can only be captured with the help of a veterinarian. Sloths scratch, bite, and and very strong; they often won’t release their hold of a tree to be examined.
To acquire the basic lab equipment needed to collect data, Cliffe received financial backing for the project through an Indiegogo campaign. She shattered her $15,000 goal and will give the money to Dr. Sofia (Sonia) Consuegra del Olmo, Associate Professor in Biosciences at Swansea University, to conduct tests.
Cliffe says, “I’m very lucky to be working with her – she’s a big deal in the world of conservation genetics.”
Once Cliffe completes her PhD, she plans to return to Costa Rica.