Plus - Letter to the Editor

Loris eyes extracted by fire

The rediscovery of the Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) reminds me of the earliest reference to these extraordinary primates from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka by James Emerson Tennent from Ceylon (1859).

In his account, Tennent gives a unique description of how he kept one as a pet, and reveals that their remarkable eyes were considered charms and love-potions and extracted by burning the creatures alive. No doubt another reason as to why they almost became extinct:

“ … the little loris, which, from its sluggish movements, nocturnal habits, and consequent inaction during the day, has acquired the name of the ‘Ceylon Sloth.’ There are two varieties in the island; one of the ordinary fulvous brown, and another larger, whose fur is entirely black. A specimen of the former was sent to me from Chilaw, on the western coast, and lived for some time at Colombo, feeding on rice, fruit, and vegetables. It was partial to ants and other insects, and always eager for milk or the bone of a fowl.

“The naturally slow motion of its limbs enables the loris to approach its prey so stealthily that it seizes birds before they can be alarmed by his presence. The natives assert that it has been known to strangle the pea-fowl at night, and feast on the brain. During the day the one which I kept was usually asleep . . . its perch firmly grasped with all hands, its back curved into a soft ball of fur, and its head hidden deep between its legs. The singularly large and intense eyes of the loris have attracted the attention of the Singhalese, who capture the creature for the purpose of extracting them as charms and love-potions, and this they are said to effect by holding the little animal to the fire till its eyeballs burst.”

Richard Boyle, Via e mail

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