Who are sloths?

Sloths are solitary, tree-dwelling wild animals native to lowland rainforests in South and Central America, where they are known for being the slowest mammal in the world. 

From an anthropocentric—or human-centered—perspective, slowness may not seem like the most advantageous evolutionary trait; however, sloths have survived for millions of years because their slowness has made them masters of camouflage in jungles teeming with jaguars, eagles, and anacondas. The slow pace of sloths' normal movements often falls below the sensory perception of even the most adept hunters on the prowl, and as folivores, sloths' slow metabolism allows them to digest leaves from the same trees that they use as shelter, further limiting their movement and preserving precious calories.

Sloths' camouflage doesn't end with their movement. In fact, sloths move so slowly that entire ecosystems grow on their backs, creating a symbiotic relationship with algae, fungi, moths, and other insects, which helps to further blend sloths into the rainforest canopy. Sloths remarkably emit no natural body odor and evolution has even rid them of the ability to regulate their own body temperature to save energy so predators cannot locate them by smell or even by thermal vision. If they do feel threatened, sloths' initial reaction is to freeze, shrouding themselves into their surroundings.

If camouflage fails, sloths' may drop from the branches where they hang into rivers and swim away, with their strong arms and bodies made buoyant by the gas emitted from digesting leaves making them natural swimmers. If given no other recourse, sloths will fight back, biting and striking with four-inch claws with surprising swiftness. 

Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Sloths are one of the most unique animals on the planet, however, their exceptionalism opens them up to unique human threats, including poaching for zoos and as pets. Like with all forms of evolution, every adaptation has a genetic trade-off, and for sloths, they've traded in their hearing and eyesight, causing them to be mostly deaf and nearly blind when exposed to bright daylight. They've also given up their inability to thermoregulate in order to save energy, causing them to be reliant on environmental conditions to regulate their body temperature. If they're exposed to cold climates, like that of New York, the special microbes that live in their stomachs can die, and the sloth can no longer digest the leaves that it eats—starving to death on a full stomach. 

According to Rebecca Cliffe, PhD—a Costa Rica-based zoologist who founded the Sloth Conservation Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to saving sloths in the wild:

Allowing hands-on contact is not ethical. Sloths are a solitary species, so they’re not social and can’t be domesticated. They are the prey and humans are the predator. Sadly, their natural reaction is to stay still, which confuses people into thinking they are content with being held and touched. And there’s another entirely separate issue: the effects of social media. The more people visiting these encounters and sharing photographs of touching and holding a sloth, the faster these actions become normalized. People then come to economically troubled countries like Costa Rica or Colombia or Brazil with a preconception that sloths are touchable and holdable, which then presents greater opportunities for exploitation. 

While those who exploit sloths may tell you that interacting with sloths is essential to protecting these endangered animals, scientific studies show the opposite. Not only has it been scientifically proven that the mere approach of a human causes sloths to experience abnormal blood pressure reactions, but numerous studies have shown that displaying endangered animals in unnatural settings may undermine support for and divert resources away from legitimate conservation efforts by causing patrons to believe that wild populations are not imperiled while increasing their desire to keep endangered animals as pets. (Schroepfer et al, 2011; Ross et al, 2011; Leighty et al, 2015) Another found that casual observance of wild animals in unnatural settings may have a negative impact on children’s understanding of animals and their habitats. (Jensen, 2014

What is Sloth Encounters New York? 

Sloth Encounters New York—previously known as Sloth Encounters Pet Shop or Sloth Encounters Long Island—is an unlicensed traveling menagerie that has been documented unlawfully exploiting baby sloths and other wild animals throughout New York State. 

After an undercover investigation captured disturbing footage of Sloth Encounters’ staff hitting sloths, stressed sloths kept in crowded conditions, sloths fighting with one another and a wounded sloth struggling when Wallach roughly grabbed his head and neck, Sloth Encounters owner Larry Wallach had his Islip storefront shut down by the Supreme Court, however, Wallach has been documented continuing to take animals to raucous parties for profitrecently being cited by the New York City Department of Health for exhibiting sloths, a kangaroo, and a python in New York City where they are prohibited. 

In June 2024, Wallach had his license to exhibit animals canceled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) following more than 60 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act; however, days later Wallach posted photos of his continued, now apparently unlicensed, exhibitions. 

Wallach is now facing criminal contempt charges after previously being found guilty of civil contempt for violating Supreme Court orders enjoining him from operating after he was documented taking animals to unlicensed cannabis parties where the organizers alleged sloths got "high." 

According to Denise Flores—an employee of Wallach's late business partner Sam Mazzola—Wallach's illegal cannabis exhibitions weren't the first time Wallach's animals were allegedly drugged, telling Roadside Zoo News:

[Sam] had partnered up with a man named Larry Wallach to open this store and they were bringing in cubs—like a baby white lion and a baby tiger—and Larry was drugging the babies! I caught him. After I saw him drug the cub, I grabbed the baby and stuck my finger down its throat to get it to vomit the drugs up. I confronted Larry about it, but he was one of the bosses. I’m pretty sure they kept drugging the cubs after that.

Endangering children & the welfare of animals

Exploiting animals is nothing new for Sloth Encounters' owner Larry Wallach, having been cited for more than sixty violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including "critical" violations in November 2022 for lying to USDA APHIS inspectors about an incident involving the bite of a childAccording to Suffolk County health officials, had the incident involved one of the other more recently acquired sloths, euthanasia and rabies testing of the sloth would likely have been required for public health purposes. Kangaroos—who are also exhibited by Wallach—cannot be vaccinated against rabies, and without prompt treatment, rabies is almost always fatal in humans. 

A month prior, in October 2022, Wallach was cited for two more violations of the Animal Welfare Act after he failed to show USDA APHIS inspectors a veterinary care plan for a baby sloth and told inspectors that the sloths stay at his brother or girlfriend’s house when the facility is closed, when in fact he was harboring them at the Best Western Mill River Manor in Rockville Centre. After Best Western’s corporate office was informed that Wallach was hiding sloths from federal authorities at this location, Wallach was ordered to remove them and vacated the hotel. Wallach then began staying with an employee who was squatting in a New York City apartment. Shortly thereafter, the Administration of Children‘s Services took custody of two children belonging to the Sloth Encounters employee after it apparently found she had endangered them by exposing them to dangerous, wild animals at Sloth Encounters. 

Wallach was cited again by USDA APHIS in March 2023 for not providing federal inspectors access to inspect his facility; and again, in April 2023 for mishandling animals after a USDA APHIS inspector observed an employee improperly feeding a baby kangaroo in a manner that “can lead to aspiration and accompanying aspiration pneumonia” and after a sloth was observed attempting to bite Wallach and patrons. 

Wallach was yet again cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act in August 2023 after failing to keep a written program of veterinary care for kangaroos, capybaras, a chinchilla, and a sugar glider; and for keeping the sloths in an enclosure with humidity insufficient for their health and welfare, leading to a baby sloth named Cosmo to scratch at his skin. 

In October 2023, Wallach was cited for failing to maintain “a safe and effective program for the control of insects, ectoparasites, avian and mammalian pests” after “a large number of flies were seen in the store front (housing the capybaras and kangaroo), sloth exhibit area, and kitchen.” 

In February 2024, Wallach was cited for three new violations (including 2 "critical" violations) of the federal Animal Welfare Act in relation to the aforementioned Humane Society investigation:

  • improperly handling sloths during public interactions resulting in injuries ("critical" violation);
  • confining incompatible animals to a single enclosure risking "injury or death of the animals" ("critical" violation);
  • and leaving facilities in such disrepair that it caused a potential hazard to a kangaroo and capybaras. 

In May 2024, Wallach was cited for failing to provide disposition records for more than a dozen animals, including a degu, 3 sugar gliders, and 10 lovebirds after his store was shuttered by the Suffolk County Supreme Court and these animals apparently disappeared without a trace. 

No photo description available.

Two days later, USDA APHIS issued Wallach an 'Official Warning' that "if APHIS obtains evidence of any future violation of these federal regulations, APHIS may pursue civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or other sanctions for this alleged violation(s) and for any future violation(s)."

Trafficking wildlife & electroshocking a juvenile tiger

Long before Wallach began exploiting sloths, Wallach exploited tigers, bears, and other animals defined as "dangerous" by Title 6 New York Codes, Rules, and Regulations 180.1, however, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) failed to renew Wallach's permit after a long list of infractions, which is apparently why he’s now exhibiting sloths who are not subject to that permit requirement. 

One example of Wallach's prior infractions include taking an unrestrained tiger cub to a public park and allowing the public to pet and handle the animal. A tip from PETA about Facebook Live videos—one of which depicted Wallach electroshocking a young tiger named Sheba and threatening a dog with an electric prodresulted in a slew of Animal Welfare Act citations, including a “critical” citation for failure to follow veterinary instructions for treatment of Sheba’s broken toe and further citations for confining her to an enclosure in disrepair that had broken floorboards and putting her and a wolf at risk of injury by allowing them to interact in a dangerous manner. 

Despite no longer having a license to possess "dangerous" animals, Wallach pleaded guilty to state charges of illegal possession with intent to sell Nile monitors—venomous reptiles who grow up to 7ft long and fit this designationfollowing a 2023 Humane Long Island investigationA few months later, Wallach was linked to an investigation by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) related to his alleged involvement in unlawfully trafficking Kodiak bear cubs from a roadside zoo in New Jersey to an unlicensed man named Shae Hensley who confessed to training them for shows in Florida—where they escaped and roamed the neighborhood. Wallach has denied having anything to do with these bears, however, photographs of Wallach inside his now-shuttered store show him holding one of the baby bears when they were so young they apparently hadn't yet opened their eyes. 

Whistleblowers report that the same day these bears were photographed at Sloth Encounters, Wallach received two baby porcupines. Mrs. Prickles reportedly died the first night from hypothermia after Wallach failed to provide the babies with a heat source and Mr. Prickles reportedly died a few months later from aspiration pneumonia after Wallach fed him improperly on his back. Their tiny corpses were photographed inside Sloth Encounters' freezer. 

Tired of Sloth Encounters' animal exploitation? 

Since launching our campaign, Humane Long Island's investigations have led to more than a dozen Animal Welfare Act citations, civil and criminal convictions, the court-ordered closure of Wallach's storefront, and the cancellation of Wallach's license. We also passed a new Suffolk County law banning traveling exotic animals and worked with state legislators to introduce new legislation aimed at restricting the sale of these animals to the public. But we need your help to put Larry Wallach's animal exploitation to bed once and for all.  

Please pledge to never patronize any establishment that offers hands-on encounters with wild animals! Then consider supporting our campaign to stop Sloth Encounters and move the animals to reputable sanctuaries where they can live a more natural life. 

On Jamie Fullerton's Beast Master podcast, Wallach confessed:

If the people in the animal world weren't so cuckoo, we would get away with so much! 

Don't let Wallach con you. If you hired Larry Wallach and have regrets, Humane Long Island can help. E-mail us at [email protected]. Confidentiality is important to us. 

Looking for a truly educational sloth party?

Children love to meet and learn from our ‘sloth’ mascot and experienced team of anthrozoologists and licensed wildlife rehabilitators who—unlike animals—choose to put on a show for the love of performance and education! Lesson plans can include stickers, activity books, and puppets; and can be tailored to all ages—from pre-K to university. We love teaching neurodivergent children, too!


Exploiting wild animals at schools and parties teaches children the dangerously anticonservationist message that animals are ours to exploit for entertainment and profit. Studies show that these interactions undermine legitimate conservation efforts by misleading people into thinking that wild populations are not imperiled, making them less likely to donate to conservation!