Featured Image: Joel Satore, founder of The Photo Ark
Most people could presume the story of the slow loris that met the hands of a tourist attraction – an exotic creature with desirable qualities is subjected to deplorable conditions.
It’s a tale heard over and over again, from the petting of tiger cubs in India to elephant rides in Thailand to dolphin dives in Indonesia. Industries that cater to the desire of tourists to interact with these animals offer big returns. The more intimate the interaction, the greater the return. The welfare of said animals does not fit within the parameters of the most profitable interaction.
In the case of the loris, there is a simple business model: engage the curiosity of tourists with an exotic creature and offering photo-ops that they can parade to acquaintances. Or, seek out those that desire a rare and exotic creature that they can boast about to acquaintances.
In either case, the success of the business is founded on an individual’s need for external validation.
Ohhh… what is that?
The slow loris is a general term used to describe a group comprising nine Strepsirrhini primates that share, among several qualities, brachial glands on their upper arm that secrete a liquid toxin and a nocturnal lifestyle.
The latter quality laid the foundations of our attraction to the loris. Not because they are active at night, but because their body became adapted to being active at night. Specifically, their eyes, which have become enlarged for higher light sensitivity.
Coupled with their timid persona and gentle movements, the slow loris is the pinnacle of adorability. It is no wonder they have become so popular as a portrait partner – even the likes of Rihanna sought to be graced by the photogenic loris.
Even when engaging its venomous defence, the loris can’t help but attract more people. When threatened the loris will raise its arms above its heads and lick the toxins from its brachial glands. When mixed with saliva the toxins are activated. Unfortunately, this is its response to being touched and tickled. A response that we perceive as a comedically adorable gesture. (The loris was first shot into popularity when a video surfaced on YouTube of this exact behaviour).
A screen shot from a viral video of the loris being tickled.
Image Source: Share the Buzz
This popularity has done little to slow the decline of the loris species – it has hastened it. Every member of the slow loris group is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Javan Slow Loris is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.
The slow loris decline has resulted from habitat loss and degradation through deforestation and other factors; poaching to supply a demand on the Asian market for ‘traditional medicine’, which utilises the supposed healing qualities of the loris; and supplying the illegal exotic pet trade – this includes those that end up on the shoulders of tourists.
The illegal wildlife trade is widely stated as the biggest factor in the loris’s systemic decline. But, how does this toxic denizen of the night become the ephemeral curiosity of a feeble day-dweller?
Transforming the only toxic primate into a hands-on attraction or innocuous household pet is really a simple task that could be performed by a halfwit. If the loris’s bite is toxic, then its bite needs changing? What harm could a toothless mouth do?
To make the loris harmless, it needs to have its teeth removed. And, the simplest and cheapest way to remove teeth: take your average toe-nail clipper and start removing teeth.
Typical method used to remove loris teeth.
Image Source: Wikipedia
While the cruelty of this systemic practice is blatant, it is often only the beginning. In order to satisfy the demands of tour operators and potential pet owners alike, the loris must be subjected to conditions that are oppositional to its very nature.
Who would desire a creature that sleeps all night, demands only high quality exotic fruits and insects, and travels vast distances into the dark yonder every day? No one would. People in the market for this kind of ‘pet’ desire something whose nature is catered to human desires, not its own. But, this only results in more problems for the loris.
Loris are strictly nocturnal animals. Exposing them to day light causes discomfort and stress. It is hard to detail and relate to this kind of discomfort because the eyes of diurnal creatures allow them to transition between light and dark reasonably easy.
(To all those photographers who have stumbled upon this article, imagine trying to achieve the correct exposure in harsh daylight when your camera has become locked on extended high ISO. You will toggle the shutter and aperture, but achieve little more than the outline of shapes. No matter how you buffer the ISO with alternative settings and tricks, it cannot be denied that the ISO is simply too high to offer an appropriately exposed image – it’s not an exact one-to-one comparison, but you should have an idea of the exposure issues faced by the loris’s eyes).
The loris are naturally inclined to travel long distances at night in the search of food. Confinement in cages or relatively small enclosures perplex this natural desire. Again, this induces a highly stressed creature that results in higher mortality rates; general discomfort; an overall poorly mental wellbeing; et cetera.
On these night prowls the loris will source a large and varied platter of food. Their optimal diet is complex, consisting of fruits, bird eggs, insects and tree sap. Ignorance of these requirements or an inability to meet this complexity results in the high rates of health problems in gaoled loris. These health problems include: obesity, diabetes, pneumonia, malnutrition, infection, metabolic bone disease and more.
With the plight of the loris founded on the human interaction itself, there is only one way to mitigate this issue: keep your hands off the loris!