There’s no way around it, the slow loris is amazingly cute. Their giant eyes take advantage of our brain’s predisposition to fawn over pedomorphic features, which means that they have taken the internet by storm and, consequently, are the focal point of a roaring pet trade. And sure, I get it. They’re slow, cuddly, and affectionate. Who doesn’t want to tickle a slow loris and watch it lift it’s arms in enjoyment and give a little contented smile, amirite?
This video explains why everything I just said is a giant crock of shit.
The slow loris, albeit giving the impression of a passive, cuddly creature, can actually be quite aggressive. This is why their teeth need to be pulled out of their jaws before being sold as pets, because who needs to deal with a bad bite off of their pet loris, right?
And when you’re “tickling” them, they hate it. Slow lorises raise their arms over their heads when they want to collect poison in a pair of specialized glands near their elbows, in order to defend themselves, not because they like the “affection”.
Unfortunately, the popularity of slow loris “tickling” videos has led to a horrible pet trade, and there is a petition to try to make it stop. But it goes beyond that. These videos also need to stop going viral, because people need to realize that they are falling into the trap of anthropocentrism.
Empathy is, I think, one of if not the most important aspects of human emotion which enables us to function in a cooperative society. However, it also opens up a trap that too many of us fall right in to.
We, as humans, have a predisposition to project our behaviors onto other creatures. If a child raised its arms and smiled when someone was caressing its belly, it would be a sign of enjoyment. Therefore, when the slow loris does it, it means the same thing, right? OMG animals are like us in so many ways how cool is that!
This is a common trap, and only with awareness of anthropocentrism, can we avoid it.
Anthropocentrism is also something that is very important to consider when legislating on the issue of bioethics. For example, in college, our Professor explained to us that, most unfortunately, Zoologists are often not called in to consult on the drafting of animal rights legislation. About a decade ago, legislators in Ireland wanted to combat factory farming of chickens, which is great. However, they wanted to require chicken farms to provide 10 square meters per chicken. All animals need space to move around, right? And the more room to roam the better!
Here’s the problem: chickens are agoraphobic. If you give them a space which is too large and without places to hide, they freak out. Often, if they find a wall, they will pile on top of each other against it, often suffocating the poor chickens that wind up on the bottom. Also, while many breeds are too fat to fly, they are still programmed to try if they find themselves in an open space, causing them to fall over and break their legs. The road to suffering is paved with good intentions, and not being aware of their own anthropocentric tendencies, these legislators were about to do far more harm than good.
That does not mean that chickens are better off in tiny cages, obviously, but legislation needs to be drafted based on what is best for the animal, not based on what makes human beings feel better.
Before taking a position on what is best or not best for an animal, please do your research. And if you see viral videos of wild animals being kept in captivity and treated like children, look into it a little bit before sharing with exclamations of cute! They’re just like us!