USFWS Moving Slow on Sloth Protection

In December, AWI officially notified the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) of its intent to sue the agency for failing to decide in a timely fashion on whether to list the pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) as endangered, pursuant to the emergency listing petition AWI filed in November 2013. In June 2014, the USFWS made a positive 90-day finding with respect to AWI’s petition, indicating that protection for the pygmy sloth under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) warrants further review.

The latest data received on these sloths—which inhabit the island of Escudo de Veraguas, off the Caribbean coast of Panama—indicates that there may be as few as 48 left in the wild, down from the last estimate of 79 in 2013. Much is unknown about their decline, as mangrove habitat for the species on the island may have actually improved over time. What is known is that the pygmy sloths closest to human settlements on the island have experienced the most dramatic declines. AWI submitted this data to the USFWS, hoping that the agency would take urgent action on moving the listing process forward in order to ensure that the sloths are not removed from the wild and imported into the United States for display purposes—as Dallas World Aquarium attempted to do in 2013 (see AWI Quarterly, fall 2013).

Under the ESA, if the USFWS determines—as it did here—that a petition warrants further review, the next step is a status review and a 12-month finding. The USFWS has one year from the date the petition was received to complete a status review and make its determination. Contrary to this requirement, the USFWS has indicated that it cannot move forward with next steps until fiscal year 2017 at the earliest, prompting AWI to send the notice of intent to sue.