Tag Archives: conservation

Will the real slow loris please stand up… Slowly.

Dearest readers, I have a confession to make: I am not actually a loris. I am a human.

Yesterday was my birthday, and yesterday it also occurred to me that for the last 2 years or so I have had the audacity to be masquerading a pygmy loris without so much as writing a single blog post about these most adorable little creatures (because these are the sorts of things one reflects on when one gets a year older, n’est-ce pas?). This is my attempt to correct this discrepancy. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the slow loris.

slow lorisSource

When I show people a picture of a loris, I generally get one of two reactions:

1. “Euugh what a freak!”

2. “AWWWWW SO CUTE!”

If your reaction was 1., get off my blog. Right now. If your reaction was closer to 2., I’d like to say OMG I KNOW RIGHT?! I mean just LOOK at those ginormous beautiful eyes and those big chubby fingers! Let’s talk about how CUTE and AMAZING they are!

I had never heard of lorises until I was in the third year of my undergraduate degree, where I took a compulsory module on animal behaviour. “Pah, animal behaviour.” I thought to myself, “what use is that going to be to me?” as I shrugged at the back of the lecture theatre and stuck my head back into a book entitled “symbolic interactionism”. Then, in my very first animal behaviour lecture, my professor showed a slide with this very picture on it:

slow loris1Source

I had never seen anything that looked remotely like this little creature before. What the hell was it? It looks like an alien. And I instantly fell in love. I remember few specific facts from that lecture, but I did learn that this odd creature is called a slow loris because it is really, really slow and it has chubby fingers because it uses them to pick up bugs like caterpillars and eat them. I also learned that animal behaviour would be by far the most interesting part of my entire degree.

Lorises aren’t just cute, they’re freaking cool and unique too, and not unique in the way that parents assure their children they’re unique, lorises really are special: they are the only venomous primate. Yep, don’t be fooled by this cutie’s slow and shy nature, she can do some serious damage. The venom is produced in what appears to be an overly complicated rigmarole – oil is secreted from a gland near the loris’s elbow which only turns deadly when combined with her own saliva via licking (fun fact: I can lick my own elbow, which is often assumed to be impossible, just another reason I feel the lorises and I are kindred spirits). It’s not known exactly why this venom system evolved in lorises, but it is likely that it has something to do with protection from predators. Because of the need to combine the arm-venom with saliva from the mouth, it is not surprising that the defense pose of the slow loris is one in which the arms are held up, above its head… Sort of like this.

defenseSource

Some of you may recognise this image, it’s taken from a viral video entitled “Slow loris loves getting tickled”. I would argue that this loris probably does not love getting tickled and that in fact it is terrified by the whole situation.

Unfortunately because they are so freakishly attractive, people in some parts of the world think lorises would make excellent pets. The internet is riddled with videos of them being all cute and cuddly but in reality these animals are not suited to being domestic pets at all. They are solitary nocturnal (not to mention venomous) animals. But when people want people get, and so the vulnerable loris is hunted (which is not a difficult task due to their slow moving nature and the shine from their huge eyes at night), their sharp teeth are removed and they are sold on the black market as pets to countries like Japan and Indonesia.

It’s so easy to see the videos of pet lorises and think they are cute and funny – they are, if you don’t really know how these animals live in the wild. But they should not be kept as pets, and the rather wonderful Anna Nekaris and colleagues have set up the Little Fireface Project highlighting the importance of saving this beautiful creature from extinction through ecology and education.

I will leave you with a teeny weeny video of a slow loris in its natural habitat, in a tree, at night, just so you can see how wonderfully and peacefully they move around, and because it’s the only video I could find that did not make me want to cry and save all the lorises and return them back to the wild.

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How to encourage flamingos to mate? Trick them. With mirrors.

Yesterday I was talking with one of my favourite oracles of wisdom, @elinoroberts. I was saying that I was at Flamingo Land at the weekend, and Elin told me that she’d heard something interesting about flamingo mating habits that involved mirrors. Naturally, I was intrigued and after work, I set off home to do some research on flamingo frolicking.

So it turns out that flamingos only like to have sex when there are lots of other flamingos around, and the number of flamingos in a group is positively correlated with individual reproductive success (i.e. how many chicks are reared). This causes a problem for captive flamingos. Breeding is always encouraged in zoos and parks, in order to keep the species’ numbers up. However, the group numbers in these institutions are often far smaller than wild groups, leaving the poor flamingos feeling like they just don’t have a big enough audience to get down and dirty. When this phenomenon was first widely reported in the 1970s, zoos and researchers were keen to think of ways to artificially simulate a bigger flock, which in turn would simulate breeding and nesting behaviour. Solutions include tape recordings of flamingos so that it sounds like a bigger flock, and placing mirrors inside the enclosure, so it looks like a bigger flock! Oh and apparently “the use of plastic flamingos (painted white) alone has been used to attract wading birds to desired sites.” The perfect sexy illusion.
As one paper explains:

“Flamingos are social breeders, and small groups of birds do not breed, largely due to a lack of social stimulation…
Placing mirrors around captive flocks is adequate for stimulating pre-reproductive displays, and adding birds to captive flocks sometimes stimulates breeding.”

Adding birds to captive flocks! As if the zoo are hiring them as extras in a flamingo orgy porn scene!

Joking aside, this is a really interesting phenomenon, and it’s really cool to see how conservationists have responded to an issue (lack of breeding) with these measures. The effect seems to be really profound, too. According to one paper,

“Increasing the flock size at Zoo Atlanta from 17 birds to 21 birds played a role in increasing the frequency of display activity by 48% and synchronous group displays by 100%, which resulted in a doubling in the frequency of mounts and copulation events (Stevens 1991). In captive flamingos, it has been shown that increases in group displays (which includes a vocalization component) stimulates breeding behaviour and increases reproductive success.”

So there you go. If you ever find yourself with a group of flamingos who just aren’t having enough sex, throw a few flamingo sex-dolls in, or a few random outsiders, or wall their enclosures with mirrors. They’ll be laying fertilised eggs in no time.

REFERENCES

J.M. REED (1999) The Role of Behavior in Recent Avian Extinctions and Endangerments. Conservation Biology, Pages 232–241
Volume 13, No. 2.

C. E. O’CONNELL-RODWELL, N. ROJEK, T. C. RODWELL, and P. W. SHANNON (2004) Artificially induced group display and
nesting behaviour in a reintroduced population of Caribbean Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber ruber Bird Conservation International 14:55–62.

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