From CSIRO Science by email
By Mike McRae
With the face of a teddy bear, the hands and feet of monkey and the fur of a brushtail possum, the slow loris of South East Asia’s tropical forests could be considered to be one of the world’s most adorable animals. In fact, the slow loris is so cute it is being driven towards extinction.
Lorises belong to a group of mammals called the prosimians – monkey-like mammals that also include lemurs and tarsiers. Those lorises that belong to the genus Nycticebus are described as ‘slow’ thanks to their unrushed, sleepy movements and tendency to freeze when threatened. These traits also make them easy to anthropomorphise, which means they are imagined having human-like characteristics.
The slow loris possesses a toxic bite unique among mammals. It secretes a chemical in a gland on its arm, which when mixed with their saliva produces an irritating substance. Not only does this give the slow loris a nasty bite, an adult loris can lick their arm and then paste their toxic spit onto the fur of their young, deterring predators from attacking.
The slow loris has long been used in traditional medicine in many South East Asian cultures. Over the past half a century it has also become increasingly popular as a pet, especially in Japan.
Hunting these animals is unsustainable and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared all Nycticebus species as endangered or vulnerable. To make matters worse, logging has reduced their habitats to small islands of forest.
The slow loris is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In Australia, keeping of slow lorises as pets is illegal and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service is always on the lookout for exotic animals brought in as potential pets. This not only helps reduce the market for their trade, it also helps prevent exotic diseases from threatening our health and our wildlife.
Slow lorises might seem like the perfect choice for a pet. However, being nocturnal, they tend to be awake when we’re asleep. Sticking with a puppy or a budgie isn’t only safer and smarter, it might help ensure that future generations can also appreciate wild populations of the adorable slow loris.