What’s your passion? is a semi-regular series at Ladies what… where we interview people about the things they love most in their lives. In this instalment we chat to sloth biologist Rebecca Cliffe about starting a career in conservation and working with wild sloths in Costa Rica!Â

What’s your name, age and occupation?

My name is Rebecca Cliffe, I am 23 years old and I am a sloth biologist at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica!

What’s your passion?

My passion is nature. It has been since I was a little girl when I used to spend my weekends running around the garden finding insects for my various collection boxes. As I grew into a biologist, my passion turned more specifically to sloths, they fascinate me! This is what my work now focuses on.

How long have you been doing that?

I have been working with sloths since 2010 and I hope to continue with this for many more years to come. There is so much still left to learn about these amazing animals.

The sloth sanctuary, Costa Rica

How did you first get into this?

I had been fascinated by the unusual biology of sloths (amongst other strange and poorly understood animals) for a long time, but never thought I would have a career chasing this passion. My opportunity came as I was offered a 12 month research placement through the University of Manchester (UK) at the Sloth Sanctuary. It was a dream come true and since that day, I have never looked back.

What do you love about it the most and why?

I love every second of what I do, but the best parts are probably when I really get to know and understand the lives of the wild sloths I study. Occasionally I get rare glimpses into some really special moments, and it’s like another piece in the jigsaw. It’s these moments that really put things into perspective for me.

What great experiences have you had through your work/passion?

No two days are ever the same when tracking wild sloths, so every day brings new great experiences. At the moment I have a wild pregnant three-fingered sloth tagged with what I like to call a “Sloth Backpack”. This combines a smart little data logger with GPS and VHF tracking devices so we can see exactly what she is doing and where she is doing it. Hopefully this is going to teach us a lot of important information about how wild sloths live and how they raise their babies. In the future we hope to apply this knowledge to the Sanctuary’s release program and find a way to return hand-reared orphans to the wild. Trekking through the rainforest following my tagged sloths brings new and exciting adventures every day (and unfortunately, a lot of spiders!).

Sloth backpack, Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

What top tips would you give to anyone who’d like to get involved in conservation etc?

For anyone looking to get into conservation or wildlife biology, the best advice I could give is to just follow your heart. Things don’t ever go as planned in this field of work, so you just have to make a leap of faith into the unknown and see where you land. Explore the world around you, take yourself out of your comfort zone and just go for it. It takes a whole heap of courage to leave a safe, comfortable life behind and start out on an uncertain path, but I believe that is where the magic happens.

Tell us a random fact about yourself that might surprise us!

I snort when I laugh… it’s pretty embarrassing sometimes but my friends and family are used to it by now. Oh, and I have never seen a James Bond movie; apparently that’s strange!

Sloth backpack, sloth sanctuary, Costa Rica

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