One of the most rare, endangered, and little-known primates is stepping shyly on to the world stage this week, as Professor Anna Nekaris and team once again lead us overactive humans to S.L.O.W. down for Slow Loris Outreach Week.
The third annual S.L.O.W. has been drawing attention to the struggles of this small and distant relative of ours via the Facebook page of the Little Fireface Project, encouraging people to update their background image with a poster about slow lorises to help spread the word.
A two-time National Geographic grantee, Anna works with a team of scientists and local volunteers in Indonesia to educate people on the value of protecting this odd and adorable critter and keeping it a thriving part of their natural environment. Her work in the field has been to perform some of the first in-depth studies of lorises in the wild. Her findings are then helped to improve reintroduction efforts for captive animals. You can lget some background in the video above.
After sending in photos and video from the field, Anna also took the time to answer some of our burning questions about the “Little Fireface.”
First off, lets talk about this photo. What’s with the one rear toe that looks like a metal spike? Is this the Long John Silver of of slow-lorisdom?
I believe you are referring to the “toilet claw”—lorises, like other primates, have tiny flattened nails on each hand and foot, but they retain a single claw that they use for grooming and scratching hard to reach places!
Besides adorableness, what are the distinguishing characteristics of these critters?
They are the only venomous primates—they have a true venom that can be injected into their victims. So far we know the venom can hugely damage other lorises, can kill ectoparasites and can kill a person. We have a major article coming out about a situation where a person nearly died!
What are the key threats facing the slow lorises?
Aside from deforestation, which impacts most species in Asia, a low rate of reproduction is a challenge for slow lorises, which have only one offspring every year or two (with the exception of the pygmy loris that has twins).
They are also heavily impacted by the illegal trade for medicines (they are considered to have over 100 uses and are often smoked alive to retain properties), for the photo prop trade, and the pet market—for both the latter, these venomous primates have their unique toothcomb clipped out to prevent their biting. This is a brutal practice done in the open streets. It leaves the lorises defenseless if ever returned to the wild as they cannot inject their venom, groom (for both social behavior and parasite defense), or eat their most vital food resource—gum which is gouged from trees with the chisel-like toothcomb.
The illegal pet and photo prop trades are perpetrated by YouTube and social networking videos of illegal loris pets—lorises are extremely difficult to breed in captivity and more lorises appear on YouTube videos than are in the world’s zoos! So we know they must come from the wild. These videos have fuelled the illegal worldwide trade.
What is your work specifically focusing on this year?
We are doing community conservation in an agroforest in Java. Less than 10% of Java’s rainforest remains—mostly at high altitudes not suitable for slow lorises. Ours is the first long-term study of any slow loris species, but also of the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris. In order to facilitate reintroductions, which have so far been done in the absence of wild studies with a horrific failure rate, we are examining dispersal of slow lorises—by learning how these animals find new homes in the wild, we hope we can help to improve reintroduction success.
We are also having a big focus on diet, quantifying exactly what slow lorises eat, not only to know what should be fed in rescue centers but also to determine the best trees to replant in the area. We are working very closely with the local community to begin a nursery for planting corridors of trees, largely run by local children who are already actively involved in our “Klub Alam” nature club.
Finally, we also run monthly movie nights for the villagers, teach a children’s book written by us in the local schools, and are continuing to monitor how lorises use their venom.
So what can those of us who live far from the lorises do to help?
By changing your background image on Facebook to our custom FireFacebook header you will be spreading the message for slow loris conservation without even trying … it’s that simple!!
UPDATE 9/19/2014: For those curious about the name, there are both “slow” and “slender” lorises. The only known appearance of a “fast” loris was in Hollywood, ca. 2001 (seen at right).