This post was written by Joshua Harris-Jones over at Harris-Jones Anthropology on 26/06/2016.
The slow loris, you’ve no doubt seen pictures or videos of these adorably cute little creatures all across the internet, but there is a darker side to this trend that needs to be exposed in order to save them from extinction. There is growing awareness of the seriously harmful effects of illegal wildlife trade on loris populations, but many people are still completely unaware of the fact that Lorises simply should not be kept as pets. This article will explain what exactly the slow loris is, why the pet trade is destroying their populations and what YOU can do to help keep them from extinction.
What is the Slow Loris?
Slow lorises are a group of several species of nocturnal primates (genus Nycticebus) that inhabit areas of Southeast Asia, and are the only venomous primates in the world. They are primarily arboreal creatures that sleep through most of the day, and their diet consists of gums and nectar, fruit and other vegetation, and insects. They have a strong vice-like grip and specialised networks of capillaries allow them to grasp branches for hours without losing sensation. Their movement is described as slow and snakelike, and they move exceptionally quietly to avoid alerting predators. When in danger, the slow loris raises its arms to lick a specialised gland on their elbow called the brachial gland which, when mixed with the lorises saliva, forms a potent toxin that is delivered by their bite. They are indeed adorably cute, but are very shy (they are called malu malu, or ‘shy one’ in Indonesia because they freeze and cover their face when spotted) and can become extremely stressed when disturbed or removed from their habitat (wouldn’t you be?).
From an anthropological perspective, lorises are a fascinating example of primate evolution. Slow lorises are strepsirrhine primates related to other living lorisoids such as pottos, galagos and to the lemurs of Madagascar. Lorisoids are thought to have evolved in Africa, and later groups may have migrated to Asia to evolve into the slow and slender lorises of today (Phillips & Walker, 2002), with molecular clock analysis suggests that the slow loris may have begun evolving into distinct species around 1omya (Perelman et al. 2011).
Effects of Illegal Wildlife Trade
Now you know a little bit about these amazing creatures, you need to know why the pet trade is rapidly decimating loris populations and driving them towards extinction. Their habitats are being affected by deforestation, but illegal wildlife trade is having a huge effect on loris populations, this is due to their value in traditional medicine and their popularity as ‘cute’ pets. They are hunted and captured from the jungle and sold illegally in pet markets, then smuggled to countries such as Japan to be sold as pets. Almost all slow lorises kept as pets are being kept illegally, it is almost impossible to get a slow loris as a pet legally because of all the documentation and requirements, but many people either do not know or ignore this fact.
However. people don’t understand how harmful this is to lorises. Firstly, since lorises are venomous, their fangs are removed, either by pulling or clipping (basically with common nail clippers), all without anaesthetic. They are kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions and handled roughly which is immensely stressful, and even after being sold off as pets, they are constantly stressed and frightened. Keeping a slow loris as a pet is extremely difficult due to the fact that the conditions they need to survive cannot be emulated properly, as such most die from infection, improper handling and inadequate nutrition. The videos that you see of lorises being tickled, fed rice balls etc. show sick, overweight and utterly terrified animals that are most likely now dead due to their owners not being able to provide the conditions they need.
The Little Fireface Project
The Little Fireface Project was started by the Nocturnal Primate Research Group of Oxford Brookes University in 1993, and aims to save lorises from extinction by learning more about them and raising awareness and empathy around the world through education. In 2012 their research was featured in ‘Jungle Gremlins of Java’ a documentary that highlights issues surrounding the exploitation of lorises that need to be resolved. Director of the Little Fireface Project is Prof. Anna Nekaris, professor of anthropology and primate conservation at Oxford Brookes University, where I have had the honour of experiencing her teaching first hand.
You can learn more by visiting the Little Fireface Project website here
How to Help the Loris
There are many ways in which you can help to save the lorises from extinction. One of the easiest methods is simply to spread the word; educate others and explain why lorises shouldn’t be kept as pets. Avoid watching ‘cute’ loris videos or liking pictures of pet lorises (because you now know the dark story behind them!) and actively report them as animal abuse. Many people are simply oblivious to the harm they are causing to loris populations, so you must spread knowledge to make sure they aren’t hunted to extinction. You can sign petitions and or even send a notice to your nearest Indonesian embassy to show your concerns and opposition to the illegal pet trade.
You can also donate to groups such as the Little Fireface Project, either by direct donation or by buying products that support the group, such as the Little Fireface Etsy shop. 100% of the money donated to the Little Fireface Project goes towards conservation education, fieldwork on wild and introduced slow lorises, law enforcement training initiatives and funds to support studies of these amazing creatures.
If you are feeling really ambitious you can even volunteer to travel to Java to help out! You can find out more about this here.
I hope you have found this article useful and now know more about the slow loris and the effects of the illegal wildlife trade on their numbers. Please do your best to educate others and call for the labelling of ‘cute’ loris videos as cruel and abusive so that they are removed. Share this page with your friends and family, and do your part to ensure the future of this fascinating, beautiful primate!
Don’t forget to follow this website (which you can do from the foot of this page) to keep up to date with anthropological research, and check out Harris-Jones Anthropology on Facebook,Twitter and Google+ too, thank you.
Perelman, P., Johnson, W. E., Roos, C., Seuánez, H. N., Horvath, J. E., Moreira, M. A. M., Kessing, B., Pontius, J., Roelke, M., Rumpler, Y., Schneider, M. P., Silva, A., O’Brien, S. J., Pecon-Slattery, J. (2011). Brosius, J, ed. A Molecular Phylogeny of Living Primates. PloS Genetics 7(3), e1001342.
Phillips, E.M. & Walker, A. (2002). Fossil lorisoids. Ch.6 in Hartwig, W.C. The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Featured Image: ‘Slow Loris‘ by Jmiksanek is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Tooth Removal: ‘Nycticebus tooth removal 01‘ by International Animal Rescue (IAR) is licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0
Loris Drawing: ‘Slow loris‘ by Encyclographia is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0