As Tom said, talking about the slow loris Please, protect them
The slow loris can no longer be traded commercially, but unless domestic sales are curtailed, the animal still faces an uncertain future.
Stories by TAN CHENG LI [email protected]
THE slow loris is just too cute for its own good. With looks that seem to cry out “Hug me! Cuddle me!” the primate is being trapped in large numbers to be sold as pets and for displays in zoos and animal parks. Add forest destruction and demand for traditional medicine to the list of threats, and you have a species with a plunging population.
Reprieve: Slow loris can no longer be traded commercially.
Fortunately, the furry nocturnal creatures got a reprieve recently when 171 nations agreed to stop commercial trade of the primate. The two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at The Hague in Germany which concluded on June 15, moved slow loris to Appendix I, which meant a ban in trade. The species was previously in Appendix II, which allows trade under strict conditions.
With their low reproduction rate, wild loris populations cannot withstand large-scale trapping and scientists have reported regional population declines and even local extinctions. They say each species has a far more limited distribution than originally thought.
Several recent loris smuggling incidents show the need to better protect these small primates. In May, Customs officials at Japan’s Narita International Airport seized 40 slow lorises from a Japanese man who had flown in from Bangkok. In February, Thai authorities thwarted an attempt to smuggle 23 lorises, packed in small cages inside a large suitcase, from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
A Japanese national had checked in the luggage but did not show up for the flight to Japan. Last November, a Japanese man was arrested at the same airport. He confessed to having purchased the nine lorises in his luggage at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market for 6,000 bahts (RM70) each. That was the third seizure of lorises heading to Japan in 2006. In 2003, some 117 slow lorises, destined for Japan and Kuwait, were confiscated in Jakarta. CITES trade data show 860 wild lorises traded since the species was listed in Appendix II in 1975, mainly from Laos, Thailand and Singapore. Japan, Singapore, United States and China were the main importers, with Singapore re-exporting many of their imports.
According to United Nation’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, importing countries report a total of 1,678 slow loris imports from 1977 to 2004. Exporting countries, however, only report 602 specimens.
The scale of the international loris trade is unclear but there is rampant illegal trade. Of more concern is that the bulk of the trade is actually domestic. It is believed that more lorises are sold within range countries than exported.
In Cambodia, large numbers of lorises have been seen in local markets. There, all parts of the animal are used in traditional medicine, for instance, to heal wounds and for rheumatism.
The animal is also common in markets all over Java and Sumatra. Lorises are sold as “tame” after their teeth have been pulled out. Pramuka market in Jakarta alone is estimated to have a monthly turnover of 200 lorises. In some cities in Java, up to over 40 specimens were seen during spot surveys of markets.
In Malaysia, there is no known seizure of loris meant for international trade. However, the cuddly creatures are sold as pets and to zoos and animal parks. The orang asli in Cameron Highlands are known to sell the animal too.
In February, Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) seized seven lorises from a pet shop in Bandar Puteri Permai in Kuala Lumpur. It was claimed that the animals were meant for an animal park in Genting Highlands.
Chris Shepherd, programme officer of wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic, says domestic trade is by far the most urgent issue right now.
“The slow loris is protected in all range states, so any trade is illegal. Yet we still see the animals being sold. For species like the slow loris that breeds slowly and has low abundance, any trade is a risk. Local enforcement must be stepped up.”
As for plans to breed the species, Shepherd is doubtful. He says lorises are not suitable for captive breeding as they do not adapt well to captivity and take a long time to reach maturity.
A wiser move, he adds, would be to protect the forested habitats of lorises.
“Malaysia is lucky as it still has slow lorises in the wild. But demand for lorises is on the rise. If there is no good vigilance, wild populations may be wiped out. Places which are suitable habitat for the slow loris should be taken care of.”
It appears that without increased domestic policing and preservation of forests, the international trade ban may mean little for the furry brown balls.