With the help of more than 81,000 people, the sloth habitat at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is getting a new name in memoriam of one of the exhibit’s biggest fans.
The exhibit will now be dubbed “The Oliver Nicholson Memorial Sloth Habitat” after the toddler who adored his favorite sloth stuffed animal. Oliver died in February 2021 following complications after a routine procedure, but his name will live, according to an announcement made on Oct. 11, what would have been Oliver’s second birthday.
“Oliver and his twin, Atticus, were born on October 11, 2019, seven weeks premature,” said Alex Nicholson, Oliver’s father, in a news release. “Oliver was diagnosed with VACTERL association and was in and out of Cincinnati Children’s during his short life. We gave him a stuffed sloth during one of his hospital stays which he adored and slept with every night.
In May 2021, the zoo asked the public for its help in picking a name for a baby sloth that was expected to become the first sloth born in the facility. In response, Nicholson’s family started a petition to name the baby pup. But the would-be first time mother Lightning delivered a stillborn pup on Oct. 10, prompting the zoo to find a new way to incorporate Oliver’s legacy.
“We had been in contact with the Zoo and had discussed other ways that we could honor Oliver,” said Nicholson. “This tribute will be lasting and means so much. It gives us a huge bright spot on an especially difficult day and some positive news to share with the 80,000 people who signed our petition.”
VACTERL stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities. It is a rare, sporadic condition where associated developmental abnormalities typically develop before birth, which the U.S. National Library of Medicine said results in birth defects that affect multiple body systems.
According to the Change.org petition, Oliver was born with one hand and the inability to swallow, among other developmental defects. The newborn spent his first five months in the Cincinnati Children’s NICU before coming home after two failed attempts to connect his esophagus to his stomach.
“Once he came home Oliver quickly started to catch up to his twin in milestones and was the happiest boy you’d ever meet. He learned to sit up, butt scoot to get around, stand, and almost was walking. He did all of this with just 2 thumbs and one index finger. Oliver’s vocal cords were paralyzed but he still learned to say hi, dada and mama,” read the petition.
Oliver underwent a procedure to connect his esophagus to his stomach in January 2021 and while in recovery, the infant was given a sloth stuffed animal. On Feb. 17, Oliver went under anesthesia for a routine procedure to check on his esophagus during which complications led to bleeding around his heart. Oliver’s parents said that during his visitation, attendees mentioned a sloth at the zoo was pregnant.
“Everyone was saying it was a sign and speculating that it would be named after Oliver. We later found out that Lightning was a two toed sloth which sort of resembled Oliver’s one hand with only two fingers,” read the petition. "We still have his favorite stuffed animal sloth with us and it reminds us he is still here with us."
“Excitement for Sloth Birth Comes to a Sad End at the Cincinnati Zoo.” Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®, https://cincinnatizoo.org/news-releases/excitement-for-sloth-birth-comes-to-a-sad-end-at-the-cincinnati-zoo/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.
“Oliver Nicholson to Be Memorialized in Sloth Habitat.” Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®, https://cincinnatizoo.org/news-releases/oliver-nicholson-to-be-memorialized-in-sloth-habitat/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®, https://cincinnatizoo.org/news-releases/oliver-nicholson-to-be-memorialized-in-sloth-habitat/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.
“Sign the Petition.” Change.Org, https://www.change.org/p/cincinnati-zoo-botanical-garden-name-the-baby-sloth-after-oliver. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.
Change.Org, https://www.change.org/p/cincinnati-zoo-botanical-garden-name-the-baby-sloth-after-oliver. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.
VACTERL Association: MedlinePlus Genetics. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/vacterl-association/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2021.