Seeking Sanctuary

By Lucy Strausbaugh, Religion teacher and 2014 Recipient of the Sister Ellis Denny Faculty Enrichment Grant, which she used to travel to the National Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica
The pygmy sloth doing what he does best–“hanging out”!

My purpose in traveling to The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica on the Sr. Ellis Denny grant last summer was to research the use of toxic pesticides by the Dole banana plantations which are having a harmful impact on the rainforest and its animal and human inhabitants. This “plan” was almost immediately sidelined when I arrived.

That first day I heard something so horrific that the words had to be repeated three times for my brain to be able to process the information that my ears were hearing. It was about the Pygmy Sloths of Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a small island off the coast of Panama, an hour south of the sanctuary. I was aware that their numbers were declining and that there were only 70 left. I had assumed they were disappearing because the mangrove trees that are both their food and habitat are cut by seasonal fishermen who camp out on the island. But that wasn’t what was being said.

“They eat them.”

“And they feed them to their dogs.”

This was just too much for me to comprehend. Internally I moved the issue of corporate misuse of pesticides to another day and started thinking about what could be done to stop this senseless slaughter of a much beloved species.

PygmyandBabyI spent my time in Costa Rica and the rest of the summer at home researching this complex cultural, environmental issue and then published a petition. Promoting the petition has provided a steep learning curve for me. Social media is an incredible tool for “getting eyes” on an issue. I knew that once people found out about this they would care. But I was saddened to discover that taking that next step, from “liking” or “favorite-ing” a Facebook post or Tweet to actually signing a petition seem to be very different things in the minds of many.


Our students learn that the Gospel calls us to the works of charity and justice and also about the SSND commitment to “The Integrity of Creation.” They are challenged to advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves. Signing petitions is part of their justice “toolbox” by the time that they graduate.

Advocating for the survival of this species continues the NDP tradition begun in our relationship with our sister-school in El Salvador. The war was still raging in the late 1980’s when the community of Ignacio Ellacuria returned from refugee camps in Honduras. There were times we were called upon to provide political advocacy for their safety as they resettled. We are now called to do no less as we establish this new connection to the earth and her animals through our relationship of service and solidarity with The Sloth Sanctuary. I invite everyone to take a minute and read the petition, and if you agree with it, please sign it. Then pass it on to your social media contacts. Encourage them to join with us in transforming this little part of the world into a safe home for these humble, little sloths.

Sign up here


If you are interested in signing Ms. Strausbaugh’s petition to save the endangered pygmy sloths of Panama, click this link.

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