It was a typical night scene on BCI, a few folks were tapping away on their computers or eyeballing bugs through microscopes, while others enjoyed some ‘green sodas’ on the porch. But not the bat crew, they were out working on bats. They didn’t go far from home tonight, just down the sidewalk by the dorms to film some bats with fancy German technology.
Suddenly Insa was back down at the lab, a bit too excited to just be fetching equipment. Oh no, she had just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience and wanted to share it. She saw an ocelot attack a sloth.
Here is a description of the event from Kerstin Wilhelm & Insa Wagner: “On the 22nd of May we were on the stairs leading to C house at ca. 9.30 pm when we saw the shrubs moving around. Looking closer we saw a sloth climbing up a tree ~2m off the ground. A second later we also saw the ocelot on the hill next to the sloth. The ocelot was jumping up to the sloth and hanging on him by his claws. The sloth managed to climb up the tree again but then the ocelot attacked a second time, biting the back of the sloth, and dragging it to the ground. But the sloth climbed up again. Then for the third time the ocelot jumped up to get the sloth, this time biting its neck and dragging it down. This bite seemed to immobilize the sloth, and the ocelot rested for a few meters away from the sloth. Then he went back to the sloth and started to eat it, pulling off the fur and cracking the bones.”
Word leaked out the BCI residents slowly at first. The ocelot was, in fact, eating the sloth just 1m off the sidewalk, next to the dorms, and Insa didn’t want to scare it off. But this ocelot wasn’t going anywhere. He had his meal and was going to enjoy it – if 15 bipedal primates wanted to watch, that was fine with him.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience for lucky BCI nightowls was the end-of-a-lifetime experience for one unlucky 3-toed sloth. Hushed exclamations of excitement and “isn’t the ocelot cute” changed to gasps of horror when it became obvious to all those watching that the sloth was being eaten alive. As visible in this video from Melanie Mangold, this sloth is hopelessly waving its arms around as the ocelot plucks its hair out and then begins consuming it from its soft underparts.
Nature is cruel. Ocelots must eat, and other animals suffer as a consequence. Sloths are actually one of ocelot’s favorite foods. Ricardo Moreno found that 3-toed sloths made up about 8% of ocelot diet in Central Panama and that, together with 2-toed sloths, they were second only to rodents in their importance. How exactly ocelots catch sloths remain a mystery. Ocelots are not great climbers, but they might scamper up to nab a low-hanging sloth. Sloths venture down to the ground about once a week to go to the bathroom. This is risky behavior for such a slow and defenseless creature. In fact, Bryson Voirin found that even owls on BCI could kill a sloth as it visits its toilet. Its hard to tell from this night’s observation if the battle started in the trees or on the ground.
After munching on the sloth for about 2hrs the ocelot eventually sauntered away, crossing the sidewalk, probably going down to the canal for a drink. When drinking he should look out for crocodiles*, because nature is cruel, and always hungry!
*Note of added proof: one of our radio-collared ocelots was eaten by a crocodile in 2005.