WASHINGTON — I'm going out on a limb, like my new sloth friend would, and making a bold prediction to kick off this new decade. In 2020, a new arrival at the National Zoo will rival Bei Bei in popularity. 

With the departure of four-year-old Bei Bei in 2019, D.C. is currently without a young panda for visitors to ogle and lose their minds over. But I think the newest zoo resident is ready to step up and fill Bei Bei's big paws as King (or in this case, Queen) of the castle. 

Athena is a 1.5-year-old, two-toed sloth who made the move to D.C. from Ellen Trout Zoo in Texas, and was debuted at the zoo on Dec. 22. She's currently sharing her new home with golden lion tamarins, an aracari and the male two-toed sloth whom Athena was brought here to meet in the first place. 

Yes folks, we have our very own arranged marriage -- or at least arranged mating --happening here in the nation's capital. Athena was transferred from a Texas zoo to D.C. as the result of a breeding recommendation, as she's the intended betrothed to Vlad, a 34-year-old two-toe sloth. 

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The good news for Athena is she has time to decide how she feels about good old Vlad. Female two-toed sloths reach full maturity and are capable of breeding at the age of three, giving Athena and Vlad a solid 18 months to get to know one another.

And like all things in a sloth's world, romance moves slowly. Keepers in the Small Mammal House first swapped the blankets Athena and Vlad curl up with, giving them the opportunity to get acquainted with each other’s scents before introducing them face-to-face. 

Then, keepers introduced the pair between mesh so they could see each other without physically being in the same space. Only after Athena and Vlad seemed interested in each other, and spending time together were they placed in the same exhibit. 

While we are happy to hear Vlad and Athena both seemingly swiped right, in the past, Vlad has not proven to be the most reliable Romeo. Vlad shared his exhibit for years with Ms. Chip, a 46-year-old sloth born at the zoo who passed away in 2018. And while zookeepers cannot say for sure that Vlad and Ms. Chip never mated, it was never seen, and the friendly duo never produced an offspring.

Athena sloth
Two-toed sloths are very competent swimmers.
Smithsonian National Zoo

For the sake of the sloth species, let's hope that fellow Greek goddess Aphrodite sends love and good vibes Athena's way. The last sloth born at the National Zoo was in 1984.

But, if there's no romantic spark between Athena and Vlad, she can still expect a warm welcome from the rest of her roommates. The golden lion tamarins in Athena's exhibit are very fond of sloths and will often curl up and nap with Vlad. Athena is used to sharing her space with other species as she previously bunked with moneys in Texas. 

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