By Robert Isenberg
Riley needs a check-up. The medical exam is routine, but two-toed sloths can be a handful. “They’re faster than you think,” says his zookeeper, Jen Hennessey, who has worked with animals for the Roger Williams Park Zoo for 19 years. “And they’re surprisingly strong.”
To keep things calm, Dr. Kim Wojik gives the animal a sedative, and Riley goes limp. The zoo employs a range of veterinary specialists, who can care for the diverse menagerie – from giraffes to yellow banded frogs – living on its sprawling grounds. At 21 years, Riley is considered middle aged for a sloth, and Dr. Wojik must check for any anomalies. She glances inside his mouth and checks his pulse, as she has done many times before. She shines a light into the rubbery orifice on the side of his head.
“He has the cutest ears,” Wojik chuckles.
The three-person team works in a sizable, unassuming room. Riley lies on a metal examination table, and a screen monitors his vitals. All around stand counters, cabinets, and medical equipment, which must accommodate all kinds of species and their potential maladies. Nearby, a handler pulls fish out of a refrigerator to feed to some giant Amazonian otters, which have recently arrived from another zoo. Like all new animals, the otters have been quarantined, and their diet is carefully managed as they adapt to their new environment.
Riley’s exam ends well; he remains healthy, to say the least. “When we last weighed him,” says Hennessey, “he was 10 kilos. Most sloths weigh between five and ten. So – he’s a big guy.”