Lorises–small, nocturnal primates found throughout Asia–are threatened by wildlife trade at levels that may be detrimental to their survival, according to researchers from Malaysia, Australia and the UK.
A study, recently published in the American Journal of Primatology, examined the trade in slow and slender lorises in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Indonesia and found clear cultural differences between countries in the way the animals are viewed, says a media release from TRAFFIC, the joint wildlife trade monitoring program of IUCN and WWF.
“Surrounded by superstition, it is believed in South and Southeast Asia that eating loris flesh can treat leprosy, tonics made from lorises are claimed to heal wounds and broken bones and help women regain strength after childbirth, while in Sri Lanka slender loris body parts may ward off the ‘evil eye’ and can be used to curse enemies.
“Finally, their tears are a secret ingredient in love potions. Every year thousands of lorises are caught to supply such uses,” TRAFFIC said.
A Bengal loris streteched and dried for sale. Lorises are often sold in this way for traditional medicinal uses in Cambodia and Laos.
Photo © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
The animals are also in demand from the pet trade, especially in Indonesia, despite the animals possessing a toxic bite. “In humans a slow loris bite can lead to anaphylactic shock and even death. As a result, in trade slow lorises often have their teeth removed,” TRAFFIC explained.
“The tendency to freeze when spotted by humans makes lorises particularly vulnerable to collectors. Our study shows that people catch lorises any time they see them, usually while out looking for other animals. This makes the problem of the loris trade a difficult one to tackle,” said Anna Nekaris of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group at Oxford Brookes University, and lead author of the study.
The trade is also illegal: Lorises are protected by national laws in every country where they occur naturally and international in slow lorises is banned through their listing in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The study found that lorises are traded openly in large numbers at animal markets, especially in Indonesia and Cambodia.
“The open trade in these animals highlights a serious lack in enforcement–laws are ignored by wildlife traders who are obviously not afraid of legal repercussions,” said Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, an author of the study.
“This exemplifies the lack of seriousness in dealing with wildlife crimes, which is leading to many species becoming increasingly rare.”
Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group and an author of the paper stressed the importance of continued monitoring of legal and illegal wildlife trade and proper analysis of these data.
“It is very easy for this kind of trade to slip under the radar, despite perhaps thousands of lorises being traded annually. Irregularities in trade, as observed in our studies, indicate that the authorities should be more vigilant and stress the need for improved monitoring and intervention.”
The authors proposed that local knowledge and beliefs about lorises should be used when framing conservation policies to protect these, and other threatened wildlife species in Asia.