Jan 26

An increase in the demand for ‘cute’ exotic pets is placing slow loris species at risk, according to scientists.

Javan slow loris image

Lorises, such as this Javan slow loris, are currently threatened by the pet trade

Peculiar primate

Slow lorises, such as the Javan slow loris, are nocturnal, carnivorous primates native to Southeast Asia. As well as having a missing finger to help them move around and catch their chosen prey more easily, slow lorises are unique within the primate world in being venomous. The venom is secreted from glands in their elbows, and is mixed with saliva to create a toxic bite.

Yet with their large eyes and baby-like qualities, coupled with an increasing demand for exotic animals as pets, these primates are currently under threat from the pet trade, with many being taken from the wild and sold in markets.

Javan slow loris image

Slow lorises are unique among primates in being venomous

Dwindling numbers

Over recent years, primatologist Dr Anna Nekaris has seen the number of slow lorises fall drastically in their forest homes, and explains that many are caught to supply the pet trade. “Java is a biodiversity hot-spot, and lots of wealthy people can afford and want lorises as exotic pets,” she says.

Dr Nekaris believes that video clips of captive lorises on social networking sites have added to the recent surge in demand for these and other ‘cute’ exotic animals as pets. The slow lorises are not captive-bred, and as a result wild populations of these species are being decimated in order to continue supplying the ever-increasing pet trade.

Despite the fact that it is illegal to catch a loris, and that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibits the commercial trade of these animals, Dr Nekaris found crates of these intriguing species being sold on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia.

The potentially venomous bite leads to further complications for slow lorises destined for captivity. “The real threat to the slow loris is that, in order to avoid being bitten, [pet traders] pull out the loris’s teeth with pliers or nail clippers,” says Dr Nekaris. She explains that once this has occurred, these animals cannot be rehabilitated and released back into the wild, as they will have no way of feeding themselves.

Greater slow loris image

The greater slow loris is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Primates in peril

All five species of slow loris are classified as either Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. A combination of the rarity of these species and the fact that they live in such isolated areas means that even small changes to their population numbers or habitat could have a profound impact on their survival.

Dr Nekaris explains that, as slow lorises usually sleep during the day and are not particularly fast movers, they are relatively easy to catch, making them prime targets.

While filming a documentary on the enigmatic lorises, Dr Nekaris was struck by how difficult it was to find one of these peculiar primates to film in its forest home. “We knew that we would see lots for sale in markets where they are being sold openly as pets. The conservation side was very easy to film because they’re so prevalent in trade and rescue centres, but the science side was harder to film because there are so few left in the wild,” she says.

A proposal has been put to the IUCN to uplist the Javan slow loris, the most threatened of its kind, to Critically Endangered, as a result of its severely limited geographic range.

Read more on this story at BBC – World’s only venomous primate ‘under threat from pet trade’.

View photos and videos of slow lorises and their relatives on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author