From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Slow Loris Ethics: Great, Now Even The Smithsonian is Hyping!”

[The latest entry in the periodic series of old Ethics Alarms posts I had completely forgotten about was dredged from my memory by a Geico commeicial featuring a sloth that a woman in the ad calls a badger. Naturally, this prompted me to think about the distinction between slow lorises and pottos, and from there to this 2013 post, which, I was surprised to discover, wasn’t really about that. My mind is a strange and terrible thing.]

If we can’t even trust the Smithsonian not to lie to us, what hope is there?

The February issue of the Smithsonian magazine arrived, full of articles about origins and evolution. I immediately gravitated to the essay about komodo dragons, whose bite, as those of you who have been bitten by one know, is poisonous. In a colorful sidebar to the main article was a smaller note about the wide range of other animals that poison their victims, titled “Pick Your Poison.”

“The komodo dragon may be the newest addition to the elite corps of predators that kill with chemistry, but the venomous world is already more diverse than people realize,” it began. The note was illustrated by photos of a duck-billed platypus (owner of a leg spur with a poison gland that gives the thing quite a kick); the tiny Pacific cone snail, which can kill a human; the black mamba, the snake that had a co-starring role as an assassin in “Kill Bill, Part 2,” and…a slow loris???

The little, big-eyed, furry, cute Asian primate is venomous? That was a surprise. The article included no details, just noting that the slow loris was the only “venomous primate.” I managed to pass along this information as fact to my wife and two friends before bedtime (it takes so little to excite me these days!), and this morning dived into the web to learn the details of the slow loris’s poison. What I discovered was even more shocking than the original note. The Smithsonian magazine was hyping, and badly at that. Continue reading

Animal Ethics: Oh No! Prairie Dogs Are Serial Killers!

Aww, look at the cute little prai---MY GOD, WHAT IS IT DOING TO THAT SQUIRREL???

Aww, look at the cute little prai—MY GOD, WHAT IS IT DOING TO THAT SQUIRREL???

Here’s the most troubling quote from the article in Gizmodo about a biologist’s startling discovery that prairie dogs routinely kill baby ground squirrels because they don’t like baby ground squirrels…after all, they are herbivores:

“Pop culture loves to portray herbivores as peace-loving pacifists—just look at Zootopia as the latest example of this—but who can say what other barbarous acts are going undocumented in our backyards? Are rabbits stealing into burrows to throttle chipmunks in their sleep? Do elk and buffalo lose their cool and impale each other over prairie grass? These are the sorts of unsettling questions biologists will have to start asking.”

The reason those questions will be asked is the work of biologist John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. His observations of prairie dogs, resulting in a paper published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicate that the cute, fuzzy mammals “will chase ground squirrels—usually babies—and if they catch them, they shake them violently. While they’re shaking, they’re biting the back of the neck to sever the vertebral column. Sometimes they grab by the head and literally debrain the baby. It’s violent, savage, and awful.”

There is a reason for this violence: ground squirrels and prairie dogs compete for the same grasses as food. It is the first known instance of a mammalian herbivore killing another mammalian herbivore on a routine basis, and Hoogland’s research indicates that it’s “just business”: the fewer ground squirrels there are; the more food there is for the prairie dogs and their young.

Clearly, prairie dog society is organized according to extreme utilitarian principles: the ends justify the means….at least when it comes to ground squirrels.

I think the ground squirrels should build a wall.

Ethics Quiz: The Nazi Scientist

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Konrad Lorenz, 1903-1989 ,  was an acclaimed Austrian zoologist regarded as the founder of modern ethology, which is the study of animal behavior. His research  explained how behavioral patterns may be traced to through evolution,  and he made major contributions to the study of aggression and its roots. Lorenz shared a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973 with the animal behaviorists Karl von Frisch and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

It seems that documentation surfaced proving that Lorenz joined the Nazi Party in 1938, however, and for that, Austria’s Salzburg University last week posthumously stripped him of his honorary doctorate.

Your Day Before The Night Before Christmas Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

Is this the right thing to do?

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