Direct you to where you might find an Asian lorisine at the zoo? “Not a chance,” I would say—at least that’s what I used to say—until I was introduced to one as a professional zoo keeper.
As a kid, enamored with zoos and zoo animals, I was impressed with charismatic megafauna and utterly unimpressed with anything less. It wasn’t until I actually joined the ranks of my professional zoo colleagues that I discovered certain critters even existed on this planet—like the fascinating and remarkable slow loris.
Before the advent of zoogeographically-themed, immersion exhibits, members of these 5 species of extant lorisine prosimians, named after the Dutch word for “clown,” were typically displayed only in nocturnal houses and small mammal exhibits or viewable off exhibit. I only ventured into such buildings as a shortcut to get somewhere else. I couldn’t tell you what was inside them and I certainly knew nothing about the natural history of lorisids.
Today people are drawn to these more “humble” denizens of the night, in part because they are displayed in more engaging naturalistic exhibits than ever before. They are also displayed as a part of an assemblage of South Asian fauna, which conveys the role of these little primates in their forested ecosystems.
Through placement of animals in an appropriate educational context, these living institutions are teaching people to protect habitat as far away as Indonesian rainforests. And indeed, they are helping to conserve species on the brink of extinction beyond lorises and other flagship species that are found in prestigious zoological park collections. But zoos and prosimian biologists need more help to get the word out about these vanishing species, and fast.
Lorises are insectivorous, lower primates that are disappearing quickly as a result of several factors, which impact a multitude of other faunal groups in the region. Habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, and use in Eastern Medicine are three primary issues influencing the demise of these prosimians.
To draw attention to the plight of slender and slow lorises, we announce the celebration of Loris Awareness Week, which begins next week.
Here is a link to the Los Angeles Zoo’s natural history profile for slow lorises. And to learn more about what you can do to conserve these rare creatures, visit the website of prosimian biologist Dr. Anna Nekaris and her team of researchers.