Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

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Sunday, 24 February 2013

THE TAILED SLOW LORISES OF ASSAM'S LUSHAI HILLS - AN ENDURING PRIMATOLOGICAL MYSTERY

Only known photograph of tailed lorises from Assam's Lushai Hills (PZSL/public domain)

Whereas some cryptids attract and retain widespread interest and attention, others are forgotten almost as soon as they are documented, even though their mystery remains unsolved. Sadly, the tailed slow lorises of the Lushai Hills fall into the latter category of cryptozoology.

Two of these white-coated, woolly-furred prosimians were captured and photographed by a Mr T.D. La Touche of the Geological Survey of India during December 1889 (though not documented until 1908), in the jungle near Fort Lungleh in Assam's Lushai Hills, during the Lushai Expedition of 1889-90. However, they escaped shortly afterwards, and were not recaptured. Overall, they seemed akin to the familiar slow lorises of the genus Nycticebus, as they possessed short but stout limbs, a large rounded head, flat face and small muzzle, short roundish ears, large eyes each encircled by a dark triangular patch, and a narrow black stripe running from the skull's occipital region along the entire length of the back.

The Indian slow loris Nycticebus bengalensis, which only possesses a vestigial tail, depicted in a painting from 1867

However, as clearly revealed in the photograph opening this present ShukerNature blog post, and which originally appeared in a short article by Dr Nelson Annandale, Superintendent of the Indian Museum, documenting them in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London for 17 November 1908, the remarkable loris form represented by these two briefly captive specimens differed dramatically from all other lorises in one very conspicuous way - it had a thick bushy tail! In stark contrast, the tail of all known species of slow loris is vestigial.

Moreover, confirming that the tail was not simply an optical illusion within the photograph, Mr La Touche assured Dr Annandale that it was indeed present in both of the captive animals. And in a postscript of 5 January 1909 to his PZSL article, Annandale announced that he had learnt from a Colonel E.W. Loch that the tailed slow loris of the Lushai Hills was well known to him too.

Close-up of one of the captive tailed slow lorises of Lushai Hills, clearly revealing its long thick tail (PZSL/public domain)

Consequently, unless it is a teratological, freak variety of the Indian slow loris N. bengalensis, the tailed slow loris of Lushai Hills constitutes a radically new species of slow loris still awaiting official recognition - for which, in my book, The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993), I proposed Nycticebus caudatus ('tailed slow loris') as a suitable name.

Perhaps the greatest riddle of all, however, is why such a visually distinct form of loris has apparently never been reported since the 1908 PZSL account's 1909 postscript, not even by local Indian naturalists who would surely have been fascinated by such a creature. Judging from Col. Loch's statement that it was well known to him, the two captured specimens were not the only ones that existed back in the early 20th Century, so what has happened since then - has this unique form died out? Clearly, the mystery of the tailed slow lorises of the Lushai Hills endures, even if, tragically, the lorises themselves no longer do.

This ShukerNature blog post is an expanded excerpt from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (Coachwhip: Landisville, 2012).



9 comments:

  1. Intriguing article, Dr Shuker! What would lorises use such things as bushy tails for? Other prosimians use such tails to guide their leaps between branches and for balance, not a requirement of the deliberate, creeping lorises. Am I right in thinking some prosimians scent their tails for use in territorial disputes? I wonder if these lorises are simply more active than those without tails.

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  2. "in my book, The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993), I proposed Nycticebus caudatus ('tailed slow loris') as a suitable name."

    Karl I find this creature quite spooky so I also propose a name Loris karloff. Hahahaha!

    Think of Karloff slowly shuffling along trailing a tail of bandage behind him as Karis the Mummy with big sad eyes because Princess Ananka's dead [a bit like yours at the thought Princess Nycticebus caudatus might be dead].

    Why I bet first thing in the morning Loris karloff Karis the Mummy and you are all dead ringers!

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    1. You have a noir and wide-rangingly silly sense of humor. Consider me amused.

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  3. @Alanborky - you certainly have a unique sense of humour! Whether I actually understand it is another matter, but it is definitely unique! lol. Thanks for your post!

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  4. I'm sorry, but I don't see a tail. It looks like the loris is hanging onto the wires with two arms and two legs. What I'm guessing is supposed to be the tail looks like the creature's left leg to me. Not being a zoologist, am I missing some kind of anatomical detail in the photo that demonstrates that it is a tail and not a leg?

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    1. My initial thought was the same, and I certainly don't feel the impression of a tail is incontrovertible, but it does appear to be there and distinct from the animal's legs. Of course, there's no obvious reason to dispute the claim of this creature's observers, especially as it's hardly a headline claim outside of zoology, but one single species of slow loris with a furry tail would be an odd thing.

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    2. The near-circular edge of the tail's tip is clearly visible in the photograph. If it were a leg, that edge would not be there. Personally, although I have proposed a scientific name for it if it does indeed constitute a separate species, I think it more likely that the tailed slow loris is an atavistic, teratological freak variety, the tail resulting from the expression of a rare mutant gene, which would explain this variety's localised distribution and apparent extinction in modern times.

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  5. In the photo, the tail is hanging vertically downwards and is much thicker than any of the three legs (the fourth is hidden behind the tail). Also, the edge of the tail's tip is clearly visible against the body. In addition, there is also the verbal testimony and confirmation from La Touche and Colonel Loch that tailed lorises exist in the Lushai Hills.

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  6. Well, too me that "tail" is its rear, hence thicker, left limb grasping a wire.

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