Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, November 29, 2012
There's a new face at the farm, Maddie
Mother and baby sloth greet visitors at the Animal Farm

When Jeanne Selander moved to Key West from Charleston, S.C., with a degree in marine biology, her intent was to work at the Key West Aquarium, which she did for seven years.

What she didn't know was that she'd ultimately be in charge of more than 200 terrestrial animals living underneath the stilted, southernmost detention center in the country.

In 1994, after wayward ducks continued to get hit on College Road, the Monroe County Animal Farm was created as a safe haven for homeless, abandoned, abused and confiscated animals.

Today it includes four horses, a bull, a llama, pigs, tropical birds, tortoises, rabbits, snakes, Patagonian cavies, a lemur, peacocks, quail, an emu, sugar gliders, a kinkajou, and most recently -- three sloths.

In 2009, Selander received a call from veteranarian Doug Mader in Marathon. 'Accidental' children's book author Peter Parente was moving from Sugarloaf Key and needed to find a proper home for his beloved two-toed sloth, Maggie.

The retired stockbroker and wildlife enthusiast had visited more than 300 schools across the country with his animals to get children involved in conservation efforts.

"Adults mean well when they talk about protecting the environment, but it's been my experience that getting kids involved at an early age is the key," he said from his home in Boynton Beach Tuesday.

Parente's award-winning books, "Peeper the Kinkajou," "Boomer to the Rescue," and "Peeper Goes to Florida," were all written during bursts of creativity relating to the author's menagerie of pets for which he had created a comfortable, environmentally-correct living environment under his house.

Maggie had been caught in the wild and abused by the original owner, making her very difficult to adopt, but once she was settled in on Stock Island, Parente donated Tucker the Kinkajou and his other sloth, Mo, as well.

The sloths, which are native to Central and South America, are unique in many ways. In particular, the only way to determine the sex of the animal is through DNA hair testing, as their genitalia are internal.

Earlier this year, Maggie began eating differently and acting more mellow.

"I'm learning as I go with these guys, and was beginning to wonder about Maggie," Selander said. "I had a feeling she was pregnant."

On Nov. 5, she found the newborn clinging to Maggie's back, the umbilical cord still attached. After carefully cutting the cord, mother and baby Maddie were united.

"Once again, we have no idea what sex it is, so another ambiguous name will have to do," she said.

Sloths, whose closest relative is the anteater, live the overwhelming majority of their lives in the trees, eating, sleeping and even giving birth off the ground.

The world's slowest moving animal lives up to its reputation further by visiting the forest floor about once a week to relieve itself. Researchers are unsure if it is to mark territory for mating, or to avoid attracting predators with falling excrement.

In addition to their staple of primate biscuits, the sloths are fed apples, honeydew melon, corn and sweet potatoes.

"I think it's fantastic the sloths have bred successfully," Parente added. "It's solid proof they are healthy and happy at the farm with Jeanne, and that was always our main concern."

Feeding a couple hundred animals a day is a huge task, it is also a very popular privilege among the residents living above the farm.

Each day, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., a handful of inmates deemed low-risk help feed, water and clean up after the animals.

Funding the farm is done in-house through an inmate welfare program that covers food and veterinary services.

Donations are also greatly appreciated when the farm is open to the public from 1-3 p.m. each second and fourth Sunday of the month.

December is an exception, though, as Selander readies for the annual Christmas on the Farm, when Santa Claus will be on hand for photos on December 16th from 1-3pm.

For more information and photos of the farm, go to www.facebook.com/KeysAnimalFarm.

roneal@keysnews.com

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