Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Newborn sloth surprises Pet Safari owner

DUNEDIN — For two years, pet store owner Larry Lipke thought his full-grown, two-toed sloth, Blondie, was a male.

Until Sunday, when a store customer pointed out that Blondie was cuddling a tiny baby sloth that wasn't there the day before.

The birth was a complete surprise, said store manager George Talmadge.

"We had no idea she was pregnant," he said.

The baby was born to Blondie and dad, Baby. The store also has a third two-toed sloth, named Scarface. All three came from Guyana in South America, where their native rain forest habitat had been destroyed, Lipke said.

Lipke bought the sloths in 2006 and 2007. Because the animals lack clearly defined external genitalia, it is difficult to determine their gender, he said.

It was unclear Monday how common it is for two-toed sloths to reproduce in captivity. A baby sloth was born at Discovery Cove in Orlando in 2005, the only offspring born to a pair of two-toed sloths that have lived at the park since 2001, said Dave Eden, supervisor of animal training.

A male and female pair of adult sloths at Lowry Park Zoo have not conceived since they were introduced to one another in 2000, said primate caretaker Amy Blackford.

Celebrity zookeeper and animal expert Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, said he thinks "it's not that rare to have a baby sloth."

"However, this is one of the most interesting animals on the planet," he said. "It is tremendous for people to see a sloth. It is one of the slowest-moving mammals in the world. It lives its whole life in four to five trees. The sloth has changed very little over several thousand years which makes it an extremely interesting animal for education and conservation."

And that's exactly why Blondie, Baby and Scarface ended up in Dunedin, Lipke said. He decided about three years ago to start an educational outreach program to teach kids and adults about the environment and the impact of deforestation of South American rain forests. His "Adventure Outpost" exhibit also includes an 18-inch-tall montjack deer and a large South American rodent called an agouti paca.

Lipke said he's unsure of the age of the adult sloths, which spend most of their lives hanging upside down.

"Because they came from the wild, we have no idea," Lipke said, as the tan-colored agouti paca nuzzled his forearm.

On Monday, the baby sloth held tightly to Blondie, becoming invisible at times as it blended into its mom's brown fur. Blondie took apple slices from Lipke's hand, while father Baby took in the scene from atop a cage.

"Blondie and Baby are bonded, which from what I understand is unusual. They're usually solitary animals. But they are always within four feet of each other," Lipke said.

Pet store visitors wandered in and out to catch a glimpse of the tiny sloth, which Lipke estimated at about 10 inches long and 14 ounces in weight.

The new Dunedin resident also received a special welcome Monday morning from Mayor Bob Hackworth.

Hackworth stopped by after he got an e-mail about the birth from Talmadge, who is a former employee of the city's Recreation Department.

"I felt like I was congratulating George like a proud papa," Hackworth said, with a laugh.

Two-toed and three-toed sloths get their names from the number of toes on their forelimbs. Two-toed sloths are generally larger and faster than the three-toed variety.

The sloths eat fruits and vegetables, such as romaine lettuce, zucchini, apples and plums, and a nutritional supplement made from trees that dominate their native forests, Lipke said.

Pet Safari has a Class III permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, spokesman Gary Morse said.

"They just had an inspection and everything was fine," he said.

The pet shop also has a Class B permit from the United States Department of Agriculture, which allows Lipke to buy and sell certain exotic animals.

Lipke said he and his staff will be renovating the Adventure Outpost soon to give mom and baby extra space over the next several weeks. The baby will spend the first five weeks of its life hanging onto its mom's belly and should be fully weaned within nine months, said Eden, of Discovery Cove.

Times staff writer Douglas Clifford contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at or (727) 445-4157.

Help feed the animals

It costs about $25 a day to feed the Adventure Outpost animals. Donations are accepted at Pet Safari at 1749 Main St., Dunedin. For information, call (727) 733-6641.

Newborn sloth surprises Pet Safari owner 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 8:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Siesta Key: 4 things you need to know about MTV's new Florida reality series


    By now you probably know MTV shot a reality series in the number one beach in America. Siesta Key, airing Monday at 10, follows a group of young adults as they navigate life in their early 20s over a summer in sunny Florida.

    The cast of Siesta Key during press interviews at Gary Kompothecras's mansion in Siesta Key. The MTV series premieres July 31 at 10 p.m.
  2. Times recommends: Rick Baker for St. Petersburg mayor


    St. Petersburg voters are fortunate to have two experienced candidates for mayor. Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker have deep roots in the city and long records of public service. Both have helped transform St. Petersburg into an urban success story. At this moment, Baker is the better choice to keep the …

    The Tampa Bay Times editorial board recommends Rick Baker for St. Petersburg mayor. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

  3. The goal of a new program in Hillsborough schools: Read a book in English, discuss it in Spanish


    TAMPA — Giadah and Gamadiel Torres are 5-year-old twins. "We were born at the same time," is how Giadah explains their birth.

    Twins Giadah and Gamadiel Torres, 5, learn about the dual language program they will enter this year at Bellamy Elementary School. [SARAH KLEIN | Special to the Times]
  4. Why don't defensive players get more Heisman Trophy love?


    In a story we posted online earlier today (and coming to your doorstep in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times), I made my case for why Florida State safety Derwin James should be a preseason …

    Boston College defensive end Harold Landry didn't get any Heisman love last year, despite leading the country in sacks.
  5. Trump vowed to end DACA. Tampa Bay immigrants worry he soon will

    State Roundup

    Andrea Seabra imagined the worst if Donald Trump won: "I thought on the first day he would say, 'DACA is done' and send immigration officers to every house."

    Mariana Sanchez Ramirez, 23, poses for a photograph on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida on Wednesday. Mariana, who was born in Torreon in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, traveled with her family to the United States on a tourist's visa in 2000. She was able to stay in the U.S. and attended college after President Barack Obama's action on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in June 2012. Mariana will graduate with a degree in political science from USF next month. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)