Sloths relieve themselves once a week, and it’s the only time you’ll see one climb to the forest floor. I was “lucky” enough to witness this in person, as the fuzzy alien gripped the base of a thin tree with his claws, smiling at me as he did his business behind the trunk. That’s probably all the context you need to walk through this memory with me.
Sweat stung my eyes. When our coordinator told us we could spend our afternoon on the beach, everyone let out a sigh of relief. The students were young and from the city, so the rainforest humidity was a little much for us. As beautiful as the beach was, I didn’t know how many times I’d be able to hike through the Costa Rican rainforest, so a girl named Andrea and I snuck back into the foliage to explore while our group laid out on the beach.
The tree canopy strained the sunlight, resulting in a grey, pre-rainstorm hue. We crunched through the leaves, sliding down a hill and grasping vines for stability. Insects were screaming and monkeys were rustling, but the forest was eerily silent. My ears tuned into the trickling of a stream, logically at the bottom of the hill we were scaling. When the ground evened out, we sank half an inch into the moist earth; still no running water. Purple, tropical crabs darted in and out of muddy holes. At the time, there hadn’t been especially heavy rainfall, so the stream was thin and shallow when we found it.
We caught our breath and appreciated the beauty of the flowing creek. About 10 feet to my left, the stream deepened as it curved around a stone cliff. Keep in mind we were at the bottom of a gorge. We sat in silence. I noticed how the sunlight reflected off of the water and onto the stone wall as the water slithered into a shallow pool.The sunlight flickered and danced, when suddenly:
SPLOOSH, SPLASH and CLAMP, CLOMP sounds launched my eyebrows to the top of my forehead. Scaly jaws exploded from the pool tossing around a bleeding fuzzy mammal.
There’s something in your bones that locks up when a predator exposes itself to you. It saw us, considering it was peering at us from a distance I could have long-jumped in high school. This croc wasn’t massive, but still, NOT something you’d expect in a clear, shallow stream. I have since spent plenty of time with large crocodilians, including wild 20 footers on the Tárcoles River with one of our H.E.A.T. Abroad trips. Most crocs prefer dark, muddy water they can disappear into. They also enjoy basking in direct sunlight, another reason I was so surprised to see one in the deep forest.
Of course, while the dinosaur was thrashing in the water 10 feet away, I wasn’t trying to make sense of why it was there. Rather, I was instinctively scrolling through the basic files in my head.
“Am I too close?”
“Should I sprint or remain frozen?”
I soon realized the reason behind its thrashing- the croc was tearing apart a sloth it had been holding under water (presumably to drown it) upon our arrival. Knowing a thing or two about reptile behavior, I decided to creep closer, since the croc was most likely focused on keeping its trophy clenched in between its jaws rather than trying to add me to the menu. Just for good measure, I kept a streamside bolder between the animal and myself. The croc saw me approaching and sank to the bottom, only three inches under the clear surface. The stream was only a few feet wider than the crocodile, but he was determined to convince us he was a smooth river rock so we’d leave him to his kill.
I soon left him to enjoy his meal after a photo. No one knows why the crocodile was in a hilly forest stream- the rangers I later spoke with said they’d never seen anything like that. Perhaps it was someone’s released pet. In my opinion, it’s just another of the many creatures adopting new survival strategies and adapting to new environments, some that we may not expect.