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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Killer Cute: The Slow Loris, Revisited.

(Apologies on the lateness for this entry. I actually have no idea why this bugger took me so long. It feels like I've been a bit off-kilter since Florida. That said, this did provide an idea for the Easter theme week: Killer Cute.)

Hey, remember two years ago when this blog covered the super-cool, unique primate called the slow loris? In 2012, the BBC released a documentary with new information concerning this cute, cuddly YouTube star. It turns out several corrections need to be made to that old entry, but the meat of that documentary is enough to say "screw it, let's just do another entry."



First off, it turns out that slow lorises are not that slow. They, like the gremlins the documentary compares them to, hate bright lights, and move slower because of it. In actuality, they are lightning-fast furballs that can snatch any little thing that moves. That said, they are also more predatory than previously thought, although the fangs and forward-facing eyes should have been a giveaway.

The scientist in this video has one question on her mind: Why are lorises poisonous? It's a good question, seeing as lorises are the only venomous primates and among the very few venomous mammals. The "how" seems to come from the loris's diet, much like how monarch butterflies are poisonous because the larvae eat milkweed. The "why" is a lot harder to figure out, and almost enters the realm of horror movies.

Pygmy Slow Loris- it's even cuter when it's small!


It turns out that this venom has a number of purposes. One, again as with monarch butterflies, the venom makes the loris smell and taste awful. Two, it prevents wounds from healing, making anything it envenomates susceptible to infection and necrosis. Lorises can use the venom in male-to-male combat, meaning that any battle-damaged lorises will die sooner rather than later. Creepier still, Indonesian natives figured out that things that the loris touched didn't heal, so they opted to coat their battle blades in loris blood. They are more terrified of loris venom than snakebite, and we're talking about a rainforest island chain with more venomous snakes than the entire U.S. of A. Screw Houndoom's supposed eternal burns; that's chilling.


I am going to keeeel you.



The documentary also takes a heartbreaking look at an exotic pet market in Indonesia. Conditions in the trade are hot, cramped, and smelly. Lorises and other endangered species can be gotten for a song. All slow lorises are taken from the wild; the documentary would probably have shown us adorable, well-tended baby lorises had any been available.

While I personally do not agree with this treatment, I do see the trade in general as a sort of inevitability. It's silly to think that humans would not try to expand the possibilities of domesticating animals. Anyone who thinks "get a cat or dog" is the acceptable answer to any exotic pet query is kidding themselves; menageries go back at least as far as the European monarchy, and conditions of zoos and the like have gotten better, not worse, through repeated interaction with "wild" animals. We know more about handling animals than we did way back when.

Some animals make good pets; others do not. The slow loris sounds like it is firmly in the "not" category, being venomous, smelly, loud, and not able to breed in captivity. Don't let that adorable YouTube video fool you. There are plenty of other exotic mammals that have proven to breed in captivity, if not make great pets. Wolves and skunks have a better track record in that regard than slow lorises.

You know that Killer White Rabbit from Monty Python's Holy Grail? That's what the slow loris is, for real. It's a cute fuzzy thing that kills people. The natives know it as a lethal, mystical animal that is to be feared despite its cuteness, and occasionally trap it for tourists. Scientists treat it as a mysterious creature that we need to learn a lot more about. The rest of the world see it as nothing more than the most memetic animal since LOLCats. Could LOLris be up next on the horizon? Hopefully not.

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