I think it’s safe to say that most of us have seen the videos floating around the internet that show slow lorises being petted and tickled, and some of us (me included) have probably even commented or shared these videos captioning them with “Awww cute!”. But the truth about these videos is what is being interpreted as this cute and joyful behaviour is actually pain and fear.
One of the most loved yet most endangered primates has, for the past few decades, been fighting the anthropogenic pressures which are pushing in on its native habitat. Professor Anna Nekaris who researches slow lorises in the wild aims to raise awareness of the decline of this endangered primate.
Slow lorises are known for their shy and nocturnal behaviour as well as being the only venomous primate. There are 5 recognised species of slow loris all of which are found in South East Asia. As a result of habitat loss and Asia’s illegal wildlife trade, all 5 species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as being threatened with extinction. Prof Nekris, who works with her research group in Indonesia aims to better understand the ecology of the slow loris in order to devise more effective conservation solutions.
With habitats being destroyed and fragmented, slow loris populations are continually being isolated reducing their already low reproductive rate. Furthermore, the illegal wildlife trade is having more devastating effects on populations as a growing demandfor their use as traditional medicine and in the pet trade is leading to overexploitation. There slow movements make them an easy target for hunters, and the use of spotlights which can pick up their eye shine amount the trees makes them even easier to capture.
One of Prof Anna Nekaris’s main goals is to raise awareness of these primates in the pet trade. As they are venomous their teeth are often cut which in a lot of cases leads to the animal’s death due to infection and many more die in the poor cramped conditions they are kept in while being transported. She also criticises ‘cute’ online videos of these pet primates saying their behaviour is being misinterpreted by viewers and what looks like a positive behaviour is actually the animal showing signs of stress. As these animals are very sensitive to stress and do not do well in captivity, she worries that these videos will also encourage people to purchase these animals as pets themselves. There is often a high mortality in pet slow lorises due to a combination of social needs not being properly met, incorrect diet and excessive handling particularly during daylight hours which disturbs the animal’s nocturnal behaviour. Although illegal as pets in most countries they are often shipped to the Middle East, Japan and even the US and the UK.
Prof Anna Nekaris aims to educate people about the dos and don’ts when it comes to slow lorises. On her website she advises people that to help with slow loris conservation, “do not buy exotic animals as pets, do not buy rainforest woods such as mahogany and teak which contribute to their habitat loss, do not support online videos featuring slow lorises as pets and above all, spread the word!”
You can follow Prof Nekaris’s work by joining her facebook page ‘Little Fireface Project’
Also visit the website to find out how you can help slow loris populations: http://www.nocturama.org/
Image by Flickr user: Dick Culbert