A strange and beautiful little creature, and one of the few venomous primates that exist, the slow loris is sadly a victim of its own cuteness.
Lorises can be found all across Asia, from India to China, with many sub-species around South-East Asia. However, loris numbers the world over are in decline thanks to threats such as traditional medicine, deforestation, and the tourist and pet trades.
Because their popularity in recent years stems from the Internet, they are also an animal which we can all help by doing (or not doing) a few simple things wherever we are in the world.
My first glimpse of a slow loris was at the wonderful Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The ACCB has rescued many different species, releasing them back to the wild whenever they can. I simply had to photograph a loris during my visit, but being nocturnal, they are not the easiest creatures to see.
As the team at the ACCB was preparing some food in the loris habitat, I took up position and got myself comfortable for the night. It turned out to be less of a photo shoot and more of a stake-out. It's easy to forget how dark the night can be away from the light pollution of towns and cities. Perfect for a loris with their extremely light-sensitive vision, not so perfect for a photographer.
After a while I wondered if there were really any lorises in this habitat, but the red light strapped to my head picked up my first hint of a loris: two reflective dots in the distance.
Unsure if minutes or hours have passed by in the heat and darkness, we stay absolutely silent and occasionally turn our red-lights on to see if any "jungle gremlins" have decided to show their faces. Without making a sound, she had moved closer, giving us a better look. She is still very cautious and the slightest sound or change in light makes her pause.
The idea of such a sensitive species being hauled around a bar district with music and lights all around is heart-breaking. Not only this, but due to their sharp teeth their venomous bites, their teeth are pulled or cut by poachers to prevent them from biting tourists.
Why poachers? Weren't pet lorises bred in 'nurseries'? As explained by loris expert Professor Anna Nekaris on her website, lorises in captivity are extremely hard to breed. It is unlikely that poachers or pet traders could achieve what zoos with expert knowledge and care could not. It's more likely that this is a story told by pet sellers to placate the guilt of pet buyers.
A shuffling sound suddenly interrupts the silence and surprises me. The loris has been moving slowly and silently, but lorises aren't the only endangered species the ACCB rescues. I move towards the noise as quietly as possible and angle my headlamp and my camera to catch a fleeting look at a sunda pangolin. Sorry pangolin, no time for you, tonight I'm here for lorises!
Despite looking completely different, these two species do have a lot in common. They are both nocturnal, highly prone to stress and extremely difficult to keep alive (let alone breed) in captivity. They are also both endangered and are sought after on the black market for traditional medicine, the loris being killed for their eyes in particular.
Most of us won't use or ever come across such medicine; the only time people are likely to see a loris is as a tourist, or as an Internet user. We do have some power in these situations.
At long last she is comfortable enough to approach. She can't see red light, and I'm not making a sound, but I'm sure her keen nose detected me.
She was rescued not only from a life of suffering, but probably death. Loris pets and props have an extremely short life, dying easily of stress or from infection where their teeth were cut. The ACCB might say a lucky animal is one that never has to be rescued. For me though this loris might still be considered one of the lucky ones.
What can we do to help those that are not so lucky? It's simple:
- Don't take photos with animal props when you are travelling.
- Don't share or encourage captive slow loris videos or photos.
- Instead, share your knowledge and links like those below to help educate people.
A slow survey of the area and a couple of pieces of fruit later, our friend the loris goes back to her comfortable home among the trees the ACCB have provided for her. All night she had been moving slowly and surely, one hand over the other, but now off she goes upside-down, swinging along the branches.
Ironically, Rihanna's 'selfie' with an illegal loris, and other events such as Lady Gaga allegedly being bitten by a loris during a music video shoot, has helped increase awareness of the endangered loris. It will take a lot more attention and education, however, to really save this species.
If you want to find out more, support rescue centres like the ACCB, and organisations like the fantastic Little Fireface Project, which has lots of in depth information: