Battle in the woods: how a sloth handled an ocelot

Everyone knows that sloths are slow tree dwellers, and one would assume that they wouldn’t be able to handle a predator on the ground.

However, a camera trap in the Amazon wilderness showed us a rare sight – a sloth fighting and fleeing from an ocelot it caught during its afternoon snack.

The dramatic footage was captured at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus) was visiting a swampy area known as a “mineral lick,” or saladero, when it was attacked.

These visits can be dangerous, as the videos show. In these videos, a sloth can be seen fending off an attack by an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) with quick kicks and leaving to make a relatively quick escape along a log blocking the mineral lick.

As researchers from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, the University of Texas at Austin in the United States, and Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador point out in an accompanying article, the footage is quite rare.

First, predator attacks are rarely caught on camera. Second, sloths usually visit mineral licks at night, when it is safer. Third, it was not previously thought that ocelots might be interested in sloths, and it is not clear how the ocelot planned to capture them.

“Studying two-toed sloths and ocelots is very difficult,” says anthropologist Anthony Di Fiore of the University of Texas at Austin. “They are quiet, evasive and difficult to find and observe in the wild.”

The researchers can’t say for sure if the sloth escaped injury entirely, due to the limitations of the camera trap’s field of view. However, they returned to the site two days after filming and found no sign of the sloth.

Very few recordings of sloths visiting mineral licks have been made – just one in nearly 4,000 nights in a 2011 study – and these videos show the dangers of descending from trees where the animals are away from potential predators. This is especially true when they visit a site that is a popular feeding spot for a multitude of species.

Researchers say the videos are useful for studying both kinds of animals: the habits of sloths and the animals that ocelots prey on. Ocelots typically feed on small creatures such as snakes, turtles and frogs, but they are also known for their ability to attack larger prey.

It also reminds us that animals that typically move slowly and have slow metabolisms can be the equal of more agile creatures in the wild. We’ll have to wait and see if more dramatic events involving ocelots and sloths will be filmed at this location.

“This video provides a snapshot of interesting aspects of the natural history of both species, showing possible predator-prey relationships that have rarely been considered, and showing the daytime activity of the predominantly nocturnal two-toed sloth,” says Di Fiore.

The study was published in the journal Food Webs.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x