The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

20 years ago I made my first trip to Costa Rica. I had always wanted to see the rainforest. I went with some friends and we traveled by bicycle. Bicycling in Costa Rica was a challenge for me. To make a long story short…. I sold my bicycle there and have taken the bus and rented cars ever since. The first contact I made on that trip was Judy and Luis Arroyo. At the time they had a small business on the Estrella River giving birdwatching tours on a pontoon boat. The business name was Aviarios del Caribe; “The Aviary of the Caribbean”.  I wanted to stay longer but didn’t have the funds so I was looking for a place to volunteer. I was hoping to swap a t-shirt design for a place to stay. I wanted to spend a quiet week or so painting. I believe I was their first volunteer!

“Dulciné the 3-Fingered Sloth” Watercolor ©1992 Mindy Lighthipe. This is one of my very first paintings from my studies at the New York Botanical Gardens Illustration Program.

This is where I met my first sloth. Many of you know Buttercup. She is the 3-fingered Bradypus sloth that has become the mascot of the Sloth Sanctuary. She is the most photographed and probably the most famous sloth in the world. This was not the sloth I met. The first sloth  that came to Judy and Luis was also a 3-fingered sloth. Her name was Dulciné. She did not live very long but she paved the way for Buttercup and many other sloths to find their way to the Sanctuary. At this time there was very little known about sloths. It was uncertain what they ate, how they reproduced or communicated.The Arroyos became fascinated with these rainforest mammals and before anyone realized it, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica was born.

The experience of staying in Costa Rica was life changing for me. When I came home I enrolled in the NYBG botanical illustration program.  I decided to go back to school and study scientific illustration. I started my career in art and teaching in the early 1990′s. Since that trip I have been traveling to Costa Rica every year. I have been leading tours for 15 years to share with others what I have grown to love.  Each year we visit the Sloth Sanctuary and yes, Buttercup is still there!

In May of 2011 my dear friend Luis Arroyo passed away leaving Judy and her family to run and operate the Sloth Sanctuary. It has been a struggle with the world wide economic situation, the growing sloth population, habitat destruction and more, but Judy Avey-Arroyo is moving forward to continue the dream that she and Luis started years ago.

“The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica” Watercolor & Gouache ©2012 MLighthipe #40 of #52/52 Painting Challenge

So I am following full circle. I have just finished a new painting. I worked from some of the photographs that Suzie Eszterhas  took of a 3-fingered sloth and her new born baby. I am pleased and honored to share with you the new Sloth Sanctuary Logo. I am currently working on t-shirt designs and other gift items. The new “Sloth Shop” is up and running for the holidays!


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