Slow lorises are not pets January 17, 2016, Sunday Mary Margaret
As slow lorises are venomous with a potentially deadly bite, their sharp pointed teeth are often clipped with nail cutters without anaesthesia for the pet trade. — Photo by International Animal Rescue
“OH they are so cute – we should get one for a pet!” Well no, we shouldn’t!
Endangered slow lorises are supremely adapted to life in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. It was only after 2009, however, when YouTube videos showed owners tickling this endangered primate that they shot into the limelight.
Suddenly they were sought after as pets around the globe. They are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.
The 10 species of slow lorises, Nycticebus sp, which are members of the Lorisidae family, inhabit low to medium height forests from Northeastern India to China, the Indonesian provinces of Sumatra and Java, as well as the island of Borneo and into Southern Philippines.
In Indonesia, they are called malu-malu or shy animals. In Malaysia they are known as kongkang or kera duku. Kera is Malay for monkey, while duku is the fruit-bearing tree Lansium parasiticum. Both names are apt descriptions for this shy animal does eat that fruit.
Slow lorises are adapted to life in the trees as their hands and feet easily grasp branches.
All digits have nails except the second one of the foot. They move slowly and deliberately; unlike other primates they never jump.
These small primates range in colour from pale greyish-brown to reddish brown with a dark brown stripe down their backs and a white one between their large luminous eyes. Although adorable, these nocturnal creatures are one of the few venomous mammals in the world.
In 2009, YouTube videos of a ‘pet’ slow loris being tickled received thousands of views and likes. Many viewers thought that the slow loris was enjoying this experience. However, its arms were raised because it was likely trying to get to the venom producing glands on either side of its elbow – so it was a defensive pose rather than one of enjoyment.
The venom is brushed over its fur and teeth. The poison is believed to inhibit the presence of pests for example leeches and protects them from being eaten. Females also bathe their young with this poison to protect them. Its bite can cause humans to go into shock and possibly even death.
Slow lorises generally sleep the day away and are able to blend in with the forest. This along with the venom are the ways in which they escape their two common natural predators – snakes and orang-utans. They have very large eyes so they can see their prey when they are active at night. Bright lights would cause a great deal of pain. These eyes add to the cuteness factor of this creature, but intensify their unsuitability as pets.
Several organisations are tackling the pet trade through social media and graphic descriptions, as well as appeals to our better nature, to save this animal from one of the greatest threats to its survival – the pet trade.
International Animal Rescue (IAR) launched its ‘Tickling is Torture’ online campaign that asks viewers to pledge not to like videos of pet slow lorises. The devastating effect of the pet trade on individual and wild populations were clearly presented via gut-wrenching still photographs and videos by IAR at the Asia for Animals (AFA) conference organised by the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) recently.
Other threats include habitat loss due to changing land use patterns and fragmentation of the remaining forests. Fragmentation refers to small patches of forest that are not connected. However, the pet trade remains the biggest threat.
Most slow pet lorises were captured from the wild and this could include young, adults or entire families. As they are venomous with a potentially deadly bite, their sharp pointed teeth are clipped with nail cutters without anaesthesia.
This is an excruciating painful process.
During the AFA conference, one of the participants showed a video clip of a slow loris undergoing this process. Its terror and cries of agony, which filled the conference room, continue to reverberate through illegal animal trade markets.
Imagine an extremely bad toothache and a broken tooth. Think about the pain and the rush to the dentist. Perhaps now you can imagine the agony a slow loris goes through when its teeth are cut.
Slow lorises are next transported in tightly packed crates and the death rate ranges from 30 to 90 per cent. Even bright light causes pain as their large round eyes are adapted to see in the dim night-time forest. They can be smelly as they use urine to mark their territory. They are neither cats nor dogs and are truly not meant to be pets.
Videos published in 2011 and 2013 by SlowLorisChannel of a slow loris, which were supposedly bred domestically in Japan, show overweight animals clasping a fork or eating a banana with flexible hands. This diet is not what the animals would eat in the wild. Their natural food consist of small animals, insects, pulpy fruits and the sap or gum from trees. Their acute sense of smell even enables them to identify fruit.
One argument for keeping these animals as pets is that they are endangered, but outside the ones in Japan, which are claimed to be domestically bred, most come from the wild – an illogical argument.
There are however, problems returning confiscated slow lorises to the wild because their teeth have been clipped. To overcome this, IAR is working closely with universities and scientists to develop successful rehabilitation programmes for confiscated animals. Some, which have
intact teeth, have been released into the wild. IAR are working with dentists to determine if the cut teeth can be repaired or replaced. The aim is to return as many slow lorises as possible to the wild.
To this end IAR released six confiscated but healthy slow lorises into the wild in Java, Indonesia last year. The animals, upon arrival at the site, were released into an inhabitation cage containing natural vegetation. Once the team decides they are able to fend for themselves, they will be released into the wild giving them a chance to live out their lives.
This is where the slow lorises belong. So say no to the pet trade.