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      Rosamond Gifford Zoo introduces 'AraÃa' a baby two-toed sloth


      The Rosamond Gifford Zoo has introduced Central New Yorkers to the newest member of the sloth family.

      AraÃa, a Hoffmann's two-toed sloth, was born August 1. At four months old, she weighs about four pounds.

      When she is fully grown in two or three years, she will weigh between 12 and 15 pounds, about the size of a large house cat.

      The zoo says AraÃa is the 48th of 49 Hoffmann's two-toed sloths to be born at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, but staff say she's extra special because as far as they know, she is the first in the nation to be raised entirely by zoo staff.

      Zookeepers say hand-rearing sloths - feeding and nursing them - does not happen very often. Baby sloths usally do have hands-on contact with their keepers and supplemental feedings, but they stay with their mothers.

      But in this case, staff feared one of the adult sloths was out to get AraÃa, and they wanted to keep her safe. AraÃa has not seen her mother since she was just a few days old.

      Zoo director Ted Fox says it will be some time before she's allowed to interact with the other sloths. Fox says they may not recognize her since she was removed so early. For now, zookeepers are watching her to make sure is safe. In some cases, that means taking her home and caring for her there as well.

      "She is very comfortable, this is what she knows. She recognizes her bottle, she's on a regular schedule," Fox says.

      AraÃa is just starting to eat whole foods. Some of her favorites include avocados, leaves, kale and tropical fruits.

      Right now, the zoo says AraÃa's most important job is to introduce Central New Yorkers to the sloth kingdom.

      "They're great ambassadors for zoos and to talk to children about adaptations and what makes an animal unique and how it makes its living in the wild," says Fox.

      Sloths are adapted for a life living in the trees. They like lowland and upland tropical forests, and are native to Central America and Northern South America. Sloths are nocturnal; they sleep 15 hours or more a day. They're the world's slowest mammal. Though they travel hand-over-hand through the tree tops, they only move about 120 feet or less a day. Sloths only come down from the trees about once a week, sometimes as little as once everry ten days.

      When she was born, AraÃa had her pick of plush stuffed animals, but ultimately, ironically, she took to a stuffed turtle.

      Zoo staff say they don't think it was the slow-moving commonality that fueled the bond, but instead the shape and texture of the turtle. They think it helps create a sensation for AraÃa, that she is hanging upside down.

      AraÃa's name comes from the Spanish word for "spider."