Aspen may be slow, but he’s far from lazy.
Between long naps and leisure feedings, the 12-year-old Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth has a very important job: advocating for the protection of his species.
He’s one of several “ambassador” animals at Downtown Aquarium Denver and Downtown Aquarium Houston, trained to interact with visitors and bring conservation awareness through unique one-on-one encounters.
“Our goal is to help the everyday person develop a connection with an animal they may never have had the opportunity to see up close otherwise,” said Lois Trottier, Staff Animal Trainer at Downtown Aquarium Houston. “I feel this connection is the driving factor behind so many efforts to protect and conserve our environment and the animals we share it with.”
Trottier—along with other Downtown Aquarium staff trainers, biologists and veterinarians—spends hours building relationships with ambassador animals, varying from the cute and cuddly to creepy-crawly. During this time, the animals are taught natural behaviors. The trainers at Downtown Aquarium Houston use sign language to teach Wednesday, a green-wing macaw, how to retrieve specific colored toys; Gretchen, the rat, can fetch cue cards. Aspen, the two-toed sloth in Denver, can paint.
Ambassador animals—from otters, porcupines, snakes and even sharks—vary by location. During a scheduled meet-and-greet, visitors can safely take photos, participate in feedings, help with training sessions and, depending on the nature of the animal, touch the ambassador animal.
Written by Erika Jaramillo, Landry’s Inc. Animal meet and greets are available at Downtown Aquarium Denver and Downtown Aquarium Houston by appointment only and can be booked individually or in private groups. Meet and greets are not offered at the Downtown Aquarium Kemah and Nashville, but other fun and interactive exhibits are available. For prices, dates and times, visit aquariumrestaurants.com.
Photo courtesy of Downtown Aquarium Restaurants.