What Does It Mean to Be a Sloth?
One more defect and they could not have existed. (George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon)
Hence we conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
We are losing animals. I do not mean only numerically through the extinction of species. I also mean we are losing them in our understanding. Perhaps it might be better to say we've rarely taken animals as whole, integrated beings seriously and therefore they have never really come into view for us. For that reason our scientific and technological culture can so casually manipulate what it does not know. The more we get to know something intimately, the less likely we are to treat it in a purely utilitarian fashion.
Imagine a biotechnologist wondering what causes the sloth to be slow and pondering whether the animal could be mined for "slothful" genes that might be put to therapeutic use in hyperactive children. Or another who wonders whether the sloth might not be a good research model for testing the efficacy of genes from other organisms that enhance metabolic activity. As far as I know, no such research projects are in progress or being planned — and I am glad. But how easily we can come up with ideas that hover in splendid isolation above any de