This Week in Zoology: The Slow Loris and Anthropocentrism

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!


  1. w00dview says

    That’s strange, I always thought anthropocentrism had a completely different meaning from anthropomorphism which is what I would blame for fuelling this problem. I always associated anthropocentrism with the likes of anti environmentalists arguing in favour of draining a wetland to built a carpark because only “dumb and useless” frogs are going to be affected by it and their needs should not be put under consideration in the slightest. But your link suggests that it has this second meaning as well, was never aware of it. But yes, fuck the exotic pet trade and the immense damage it has bought upon biodiversity.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      That’s part of it. Anthropocentrism means both putting humans at the center of the universe consciously, and subconsciously assuming that humans are the center of the universe thus judging other things (like animal behavior) through the lens of human experience. Anthropomorphism, rather, is more like finding human features in things, like seeing the face of jesus on a cheese sandwich, or believing that God is a white man with a beard.

      • w00dview says

        Ah fair enough, I have also seen anthropomorphic being used to describe characters like Mickey Mouse so that definition makes sense. In regards to anthropocentrism and what it entails, one of the most frustrating things I encounter online is when the subject of animal intelligence comes up, critics (usually with a knowledge of animal behaviour which would be considered cutting edge back in the 1930s) will dismiss any evidence as pure “anthropomorphism” and that animals are fleshy robots purely fueled by instinct. It now amuses me to know that what they are actually accusing animal cognition scientists of is anthropocentrism and that they are indulging in anthropocentrism itself!

  2. kestrel says

    I’m glad to see people speak out about this. I’ve seen it with domesticated animals too; people don’t understand their behavior and think they are being friendly when they are not.

    We’re the ones with the opposing thumbs, big brains and agendas. A llama, for example, can’t go to the library and study human behavior to try and figure out why the hell we are so intent on cuddling everything. It’s our job to go and study llama behavior; guess what, they hate being cuddled. They can learn to tolerate it, but that’s what it is – them tolerating it.

    In my opinion, first of all, if you want to cuddle something, a doll might be a better choice. And second, wild animals are not cute pets but should be treated with respect and consideration for their own needs and behaviors.

  3. robert79 says

    I once heard a public lecture by a bioethics professor from my university. Her main point was that, since it’s very hard (but not impossible) to know whether an animal is happy, most animal welfare/ethics/etc… activities are not about making the animals feel better, instead they are about making the people watching the animals feel better. I thought it was very interesting.

    It was long enough ago that most of the details have slipped my mind, but the example with the chickens was given. The rest of the talk was about various ways with which you could try to measure the happiness of an animal.

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