Moving fast to photograph a slow sloth



Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is home to many species that are difficult to photograph: the cougar, the harpy eagle, the elusive jaguar. The three-toed sloth, in comparison, should have been an easy subject—sloths are slow-moving creatures that spend their lives in tree canopies, munching on leaves and napping. When you spot one, you have time to think. Still, getting this shot had its challenges.

I knew what I wanted to capture: the animal in the foreground with the whole forest vista in the background—a sloth in its native habitat, not in isolation. To do this, I had to get to eye level with the animal and close enough to use a short lens. In other words, I had to climb.

I was lucky to spot this particular sloth about 20 feet up in an embaúba, a tree sloths often live in because they love to eat its leaves and buds. Using a rope and ladder, I began to scale the tree.

But another creature lives in these trees, too: Azteca ants. They survive on the trees’ nectar and protect the trees by ambushing unwelcome predators. And unlike sloths, ants are fast. Before I knew it, thousands were crawling over me and my equipment, biting my arms and legs. Amid this surprise attack, I got the sloth in view and captured the shot I had in mind. And then I scrambled back down at a speed unavailable to my subject.

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