DENVER AQUARIUM PUTS ASPEN THE SLOTH ON DISPLAY
According to their rise in popularity by way of viral internet memes, sloths seem to be irresistibly adorable, so it was not surprising to see a long line of sloth lovers wrapping around the Denver Aquarium. On Feb. 25–26, Denver’s downtown Aquarium hosted Sloth Weekend, an annual two-day event during which anyone can meet the Aquarium’s resident sloth, Aspen.
On Saturday and Sunday the downtown Aquarium hosted “slothy” family activities, and the first 100 guests in line got the chance to meet Aspen up-close and personal in the meet-and-greet. Otherwise there was a short viewing of Aspen in his makeshift tree like jungle gym from 11 a.m. to “Sloth Sleepy Time”—Aspen demands his 18-plus hours of beauty sleep—where groups of patrons were ushered into the Nautilus Ballroom to take photos of Aspen and ask questions about the drowsy tree dweller.
Critics have questioned the ethics of allowing so many people to have physical contact with these popular mammals, but in a Q&A with Buzzfeed, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica attempted to assuage concerns. “Because sloths’ metabolisms are so slow, they don’t exhibit many external signs of stress and it can be hard to determine their mood,” Buzzfeed said, indicating that the sloths don’t appear to resist human contact.
Aspen is a 6-year-old sloth who permanently lives in the Aquarium where he can be visited by small pre-arranged groups six days a week. In the private meet and greets, guests get to feed Aspen, pet him, take photos with him, and even get to see the artist at work. Yes, Aspen likes to paint and these paintings are also for sale. Because of Aspen’s popularity, the meet-and-greets have been booked solid for months in advance, which is partially why the Aquarium chose to dedicate a weekend to the adorable little slow poke.
Sloths generally live in tropical forests, which is partially why it is so intriguing to see one in the dry mountains of Colorado (or the city of Denver for that matter). Although sloths seem to resemble monkeys more than any other creature, sloths are most closely related to armadillos and anteaters. They can be as tall as two to two-and-a-half feet and weigh from eight to 23 pounds. There are two species of sloths that are simply identified by whether or not they have two claws or three claws on their front feet. The two-toed sloths are slightly bigger than their three-toed brethren and spend more of their time hanging upside down than the three-toed sloths who often sit upright on tree branches. Algae also tends to grow on sloths’ fur, which helps them avoid predators and to blend in with their surroundings.
Sloths have been a very popular animal in recent years, perhaps because of the film Ice Age featuring a sloth as one of its main characters, or actress Kristen Bell’s public meltdown about her overwhelming adoration. Sloths have risen to a deserved level of notoriety in popular culture over the past years, and Aspen is an amazing creature—he even helped a man propose to his girlfriend last summer.
Although the allotted sloth viewing time was short, it is still pretty damn exciting to see an adorable 19-pound sloth slink its way around its jungle gym. The shortness of the sloth viewing is certainly motivating for visitors to try and be that 100th guest in line or schedule a personal meet and greet with the staff of the aquarium. Aspen has a large personality for being a sloth, which is perhaps what makes him so endearing.