Wildlife center cancels sloth yoga classes that critics call stressful for animals

The two-toed sloths, Sid and Sylvia, at John’s Pass Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach, Florida, were rescued after someone took them in as pets. (Source: WFTS/CNN)

MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. (WFTS/CNN) - The manager of a Florida wildlife learning center canceled the sloth yoga workout classes after critics signed an online petition, sent emails and social media messages with scathing comments and even showed up at the business to scream at employees.

Sonny Flynn, the manager at John’s Pass Alligator Attraction in Madeira Beach, Florida, thought she had the perfect combination: yoga and the sloth, a creature well known for its Zen.

Four sessions of the $40 sloth yoga classes sold out in 45 minutes.

But shortly after, an organization in Costa Rica called the Sloth Conservation Foundation heard about the classes and created an online petition, calling for a ban because the classes could be stressful for the sloths.

More than 33,000 people have signed that petition.

“It’s very surprising. I never thought that we would have any pushback doing a small, 10-person yoga class,” Flynn said.

Unlike other yoga classes with animals, such as goat yoga, the sloths don’t climb on people as they stretch. Instead, Flynn says the animals hang out upside down in a corner of the room. After the session, participants are allowed to feed or pet them.

“We don’t force the sloths to do anything. If they’re not in the mood to be touched, they’ll let us know. We’re aware of that, and the stress and concern of the animal is our priority,” Flynn said.

The petition claims attractions like this one feed into the sloth craze, encouraging more people to take in the endangered animals as pets, but Flynn says that’s the opposite of her goal.

The wildlife center’s two-toed sloths, Sid and Sylvia, were rescued after someone took them in as pets, just like dozens of the center’s other animals.

“We are here to tell people sloths don’t make good pets, and this is why they’re here,” Flynn said. “It really hurt my feelings because people didn’t actually do the research on what we are.”

The online backlash raised concerns about the safety of Flynn’s employees, and she canceled the classes.

“People have actually showed up to the front door of our business, calling my staff names. It’s sad,” she said.

Flynn is now looking for less controversial ways to fundraise.

Copyright 2019 WFTS, Alligator Attraction, Care 2 Petitions, slothconservation.org via CNN. All rights reserved.