Saving the Slow Loris

Social Media sensationalized the slow loris, and hopefully, it can save the endangered animal as well. Being adorable was its downfall, as videos and photos launched limelight the nocturnal primate could have well done without. Enormous dark eyes in a banded face with silky tan to sooty-toned fur ranked the slow loris high in the cuteness category. In 2009, a YouTube video of an engaging slow loris named Sonya, who raised her arms and stretched when tickled, went viral. Then, a year ago, pop singer Rihanna posed with the fuzzy primate and posted the pic on Instagram. The commercial photo booth, where the pic was taken, was raided and two lorises confiscated. This is the animal’s best hope in such circumstances, but ideally, the illegal trade should be shut down.

Every species of slow loris is on the endangered or vulnerable list and is protected in all 13 range nations of Southeast Asia. This includes its wild capture for meat, medicine and as a pet. International ­­­­­­ is also prohibited. Despite this, slow lorises remain among the most heavily traded primates in Indonesia and status symbols for exotic pet owners.

A slow loris is easy to catch, but it is the only mammal and primate with a venomous bite. The wound can fester and decay, causing lasting pain with slow healing. As for sweet Sonya’s upraised arms? This defensive posture is the potential method for drawing venom into its mouth. Villagers consider the bite fatal. The primate’s canines are clipped or removed with pliers for grooming as a pet. The painful process can cause abscess and death. Such trauma adds to the loss of habitat, harsh conditions for transport and an extraordinary mortality rate.

In November 2013, 238 Sumatran primates were confiscated by BBKSDA JABAR (Nature Conservation Agency; West Java, Indonesia) en route to Java’s notorious animal markets and handed over to UK-based International Animal Rescue (IAR). The slow loris rescue centre’s population in Bogor exploded. The IAR team rallied resources and assessed the animals. Many were stressed, malnourished, dehydrated and suffering dental issues. Ciapus Programme Advisor Richard Moore, Ph.D. explained, “It’s likely the captures occur in garden settings or plantations in overlap areas of population, not in primary or secondary forests. The animals don’t jump, but cross tree canopies by pulling in branches, so hunters can simply cut a branch, the animal freezes, and it is quickly captured.”

Slow loris being fitted with a radio collar

Moore did his doctoral studies in Indonesia on the reintroduction and survival of slow lorises—what works, and, more often, what doesn’t. Previously, there had been little research into their ecology and behaviour. With capture and the clipping or removing of teeth, their defences and instincts are compromised, requiring rehabilitation. Chances of release plunge drastically.

Rehabilitation involves an initial medical check and six weeks quarantine, before entering the general population caged area. The primates receive 24-hour supervision of socialisation and behavioural data, like foraging, catching insects and grooming between animals. Next, they are fitted with radio collars, and locally identified animals are moved to 7,400-11,500 metres elevation on Mount Salak. Wild foods are added to the sanctuary cage, which has plastic fibre, surrounding a natural habitat. This allows access to the whole tree. “This is a very gradual, monitored transition,” Moore said. “Teams are on the mountain every night. If feeding and habits are good, and they are displaying survival behaviour, a branch is introduced into the canopy for self-release. The slow lorises are monitored for a year, if possible. Some may return to a village or inappropriate place or may not be feeding, so we bring them in and try again.” The current success rate is about 50 percent and continues to increase steadily.

They are happy endings. As a slow loris’ collar was removed after one year, pregnancy was discovered. During another collar removal, two friends were captured, and as the animals are chipped for identification, the team realized the other slow loris had been released three years prior. It takes money and manpower to make this happen.

Most people buy slow lorises from markets because they are exotic and cute and don’t understand their protected status. Other well-meaning buyers release animals into the wild. Both situations fuel the trade. IAR focus on capacity building within the government to raise awareness of the slow loris’ plight. Last year, four confiscations resulted in severe prosecutions. “The law is doing an effective job, and we help by highlighting the cause with press releases and media,” Moore said.

IAR’s social media campaign, called kukangku.org, taps into Instagram and Twitter. Indah Winarti manages this movement, targeting upper end 18 to 30-year-olds, mainly in Jakarta. Awareness programmes in schools and public venues, like the Botanical Gardens, focus on general welfare and protection with serious concerns for the animals’ dropping numbers and high capture rate.

Winarti said, “We began with basic info, and have been moving to the conservation and status of slow lorises, illegal issues and horrors of illegal trade.” IAR hope to invite celebrities to participate in preservation and awareness campaigns, aiming to limit trade by reducing the demand and profit.

Learn more at: internationalanimalrescue.org/slow-loris-sanctuary

 

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Gail Collins writes internationally for magazines and has co-written two books on expat life. She feels writing is the perfect excuse to talk to strangers and know the world around her better.


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