Sloth hand reared by dedicated zoo keeper

SUS-160911-161424001
SUS-160911-161424001

A zoo keeper at Drusillas has spent six months juggling night feeds with a full-time job and college course while hand-rearing a baby sloth.

To raise a newborn while working full time is no mean feat but add a college course into the equation too, and according to her colleagues, you have ‘somewhere near superhero status’.

Gemma Romanis with newborn sloth SUS-160911-161328001

Gemma Romanis with newborn sloth SUS-160911-161328001

This is the reality for Drusillas Park’s keeper, Gemma Romanis. For the last six months she has been hand-rearing a baby sloth around the clock alongside working at the zoo and completing the first year of an Animal Management diploma at Sparsholt College.

Plus she’s not just coping she is excelling, passing the course with multiple distinctions.

Gemma does have support in the form of head keeper, Mark Kenward who together shares the responsibility of caring for the orphaned sloth.

Between them, they work four nights on and four nights off, carrying out feeds at 8pm, midnight, 3am and 7am before returning to Drusillas Park each morning for their day job.

Gemma said, “I do really love it but I am not going to lie - it has been incredibly tiring. I have had limited social life since we started this due to the demands of hand rearing and meeting coursework deadlines. She’s definitely worth it though.

“When I am not with her I really worry. I always contact Mark to see how they are getting on when she is off with her ‘Dad’.

“I know that she is in safe hands but it doesn’t stop you thinking; it’s hard to switch off.

“When she is with me we often sit together watching the telly in the evening, particularly EastEnders or she will be off exploring and practicing being a sloth.

“She eats a variety of steamed vegetables, goat’s milk and water.

“Sweetcorn and chicory and her current favourites.

“Mark and I work really closely together and always try to stick to the same routine.

“We also meet up regularly to discuss the next stage of her development, so we can ensure she learns all she needs to know to reintegrate into sloth society.

“We are currently trying to ween her off hand-feeding, by encouraging her to recognise and seek out her own food.

“We have also created similar activity pens in our homes, to build up her strength and coordination.”

“There is still a long way to go too.

“Sloths are not fully independent until they are a year old, so we still have another six months or so ahead of us. I’ll be pretty sad when she is all grown up and doesn’t need me anymore.

“However, I’ll take great comfort in the fact we would have achieved what we set out to do.”

Drusillas Zoo Park is on the A27 at Alfriston. It is home to a variety of animals and open every day.