The Slow Loris: Too Cute To Live

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The Slow Loris, from the genus Nycticebus, is a nocturnal animal endemic to Asia.
This animal's cuteness could very well be its undoing.

Image: Anna Nekaris, Oxford Brookes University, UK.

Aww, isn't this cuddly little creature simply adorable??

Apparently thousands of people from around the world agree with you because the slow loris, a small nocturnal and arboreal animal that is endemic to much of Asia, is experiencing population declines due to habitat destruction and trapping for the pet trade.

They certainly make ideal pets because they are small, quiet, and easy to keep in captivity. Slow lorises vary in color from grey to white depending on their species. Additionally, they are certainly cute: their face is round, with large eyes and small ears. They have plump bodies with short limbs, strong grasping hands and feet, and opposable thumbs. The slow loris's fur coat is dense, woolly and soft, and they have dark rings around their eyes and a dark stripe running along their back. Its short tail is entirely concealed by fur.

"The pet shops advertise them, and they're very popular to Japanese ladies," said Masayuki Sakamoto from the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society. A slow loris costs between $1500-4500 in Japan.

Even though slow lorises are highly esteemed pets, the pet trade does not appear to treat the small furry animals very well. For example, venders will often pull out an animal's teeth so they can claim it is a baby to interested customers. Babies are taken away from their parents before they can groom themselves so their fur becomes matted with feces and oils, and further, most babies (30-90%) end up dying in transit to pet shops. Additionally, animals often get bloody cuts on their sensitive hands and feet when they are removed from wire cages, due to their special network of blood vessels.

Because these animals' natural range is so large -- extending from northern India through Burma, Thailand, and peninsular Malaysia, across into Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and into the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines -- they represent more than one species. In fact, according to Anna Nekaris, a loris expert at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, there are now five species that are formally recognized by scientists and probably more will be identified soon.

Since no one is sure how many species there really are, nor how big each species' population and natural range is, the threat that they are facing is also unclear. Additionally, no one knows the scale of the international loris trade either, although it is known that these animals are sold as pets throughout the Middle East, Europe, China and the US.

So what can be done to protect the slow loris before its populations are decimated by the two pressures of habitat destruction and trapping for the pet trade?

"I think domestic trade is by far the most urgent issue we should be looking at," said Chris Shepherd of the wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic. "We'd like to urge enforcement agencies in range states and consumer countries, which are often the same, to close down the domestic markets."

Unfortunately, domestic trade is supposed to be prevented by law throughout the natural range of the slow loris, but these laws are not enforced. A possible solution lies in uplisting the slow loris to Appendix 1 by CITES, which would prevent all trade of these animals. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. As such, it provides varying degrees of protection to the more than 33,000 species of protected animals and plants that are listed by CITES. Appendix 1 is the strictest level of protection provided.

Ironically, even though the proposal to uplist the slow loris received a lot of support by the CITES member nations, these very same governments apparently lack the will to enforce these laws. But Nekaris is not discouraged by this. She thinks that uplisting will increase general awareness of the lorises' plight.

"At the moment they're seen as just a little brown animal, and most CITES officials probably wouldn't distinguish it from a lemur," she observed. "An Appendix 1 listing would bring more education for these officers, and would help them realize that this [animal] is something they should be looking out for."

Cited story.


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There are a few slow lorises at the Houston Zoo. My ex, a reading tutor, speaking of her summer students one year, said, "I have a class of slow lorises this summer."

By biosparite (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink

I don't suppose there's any chance of someone starting a proper breeding program, is there? Then there'd be a non-wild source (and the price would decline, removing the incentive to wild-trap them).

Coming from a country in the slow loris' native range, I have to agree that it is apparently quite a serious problem. The local zoo has received a number of confiscated pet loris in the past. And apparently loris are quite easy to find at the animal markets in Thailand and Indonesia.

If they can be bred in captivity, the capitive population may well survive while the wild ones get killed off....

By David Harmon (not verified) on 09 Jun 2007 #permalink

I sense a Catch-22. They're illegal to deal in (or presumably, keep at all if you're not a zoo), so they become a black-market item fetching a high price, thus motivating poaching from the wild. But if they could be turned into a "commodity" pet, sourced by commercial breeders, the poaching issue solves itself (how many guppies, or sword-tails, or any of a dozen other common aquarium fish, are still wild-caught?)

I acknowledge that, in my complete ignorance of the animal, I may be blissfully oblivious to some show-stopper problem.

Do they bite?
I am doing reserch for a exam please post back!!

By Lolly lols (not verified) on 10 Jun 2008 #permalink

Yes they can bite. They have a venomous pouch on their elbows or something and can lick it and then deliver the venom via their teeth. It isn't thought to be harmful to humans.

"Photo in the News: Baby Loris Beefs Up in Zoo Nursery"

July 31, 2006--Imagine the weight of three U.S. quarters in your hand.

That's how much this pygmy slow loris, an ancient primate species, weighed when it was brought last month to the nursery of the San Diego Zoo in California.

After giving birth to the 0.6-ounce (17-gram) male at the zoo on June 24, the mother didn't take proper care of him. Zoo officials intervened and placed the big-eyed baby in the nursery's incubator.

Mother and son have since been reintroduced and now spend a few hours together each day, says zoo spokesperson Andrew Circo. The initial lack of care may be due to the female being a first-time mom, he says, but now she's starting to get the hang of it, and the baby has beefed up to a whopping 2.12 ounces (60 grams).

The pygmy slow loris is a rare species found in Vietnam, Laos, and parts of Cambodia. About 72,000 of the creatures live in the wild, and 183 are in captivity.

The nocturnal animals spend their days curled up in tree holes or clumps of dense vegetation. At night they come out to dine on fruit, insects, small mammals, and birds (photos: nighttime creatures of the Southeast Asian rain forest).

As adults, the loris species only tips the scales at 1 pound (0.45 kilogram). But don't let its diminutive size fool you. If threatened, the loris can pack a poisonous bite.

"They have little pads on the inside of their elbows that release a toxin," Circo explained. "If they lick that, then bite in self-defense, they actually are able to deliver the toxin via their teeth."

The toxin isn't believed to be harmful to humans.

--Maryann Mott

I live in Thailand on the island of Koh Samui. Some of my workers (who are building my house in the mountains) caught a grey Loris (i think) in the forest nearby. What should I do with it. If I release it probably some other workers might catch it and eat or sell it. Any advise? It is in a cage in my house at the moment. Thanx

the first time I saw one was in the Seattle zoo's night & day exhibit and there freakin cute

By coolman1081 (not verified) on 02 Oct 2009 #permalink

I read a very disturbing article in a recently National Geographic magazine. How illegal traffickers were smuggling these poor creatures in tiny uncomfortable boxes which totaly restricted their freedom of movement.

Curran Padake

its absolutely terrible how they treat these animals. im looking at this site for a project idea and i think im going to report about this. PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW!!!!