Matang is currently holding two adult slow lorises in the quarantine area, in purpose-built cages in a small forested area to reduce stress for the animals (see our blog for information about these cages). Unfortunately, this is a fairly common species that Matang receives, in part due to the popularity of this animal in illegal pet trade.
In 2007 all slow loris species were protected from commercial international trade under appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, despite international and local laws prohibiting their trade, enforcement is poor and thus slow lorises are commonly found in market places in habitat countries and are also commonly smuggled into other countries such as Japan China, Europe, Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia to be kept as pets. Viral You Tube videos have also contributed to their popularity on the illegal market. International smuggling results in very high mortality rates during transit. In addition, slow lorises that enter the pet trade have their teeth pulled with pliers or cut out with nail clippers and many die as a result of subsequent infection, blood loss, shock or from generally poor handling and nutrition. If the animal survives this horrific process they are forever destined for a life in captivity as they are no longer able to fend for themselves in the wild without their teeth.
Slow lorises are one of the oldest extant group of primates, having survived 50 million years since the evolution of the first primates. They are pro-simians, and evolved from the lemurs around 18 million years ago. Little is known about the social structure or ecology of the slow lorises, in part because their natural habitat and nocturnal lifestyle present a huge challenge for humans who might wish to observe and study them.
There is much debate and confusion as to whether the slow loris can be considered a “toxic” primate. They produce a secretion from their brachial gland (a scent gland under their arms) which they lick and thus the secretion mixes with their saliva. Little is known about the secretion and its potential toxicity when combined with the saliva. It is clear that we still have much to learn about these amazing animals, little of which can be gleaned from viral You Tube videos, or posing for photos with them in tourism destinations.
Volunteers to our projects often ask ‘can’t you just release this orangutan/that gibbon/every animal that’s here?’ – unfortunately animals that have been subjected to illegal trade or kept by humans in any way are rarely suitable candidates for re-release to their natural habitat. All too often they are either physically or psychologically damaged beyond repair, and the best we can offer is a comfortable life in a sanctuary environment. Imagine a human that has been kept in a prison cell since it was a few months old – then at age 18 was released into central London and instructed to get a job, flat and generally make a success of life. We would think it was ludicrous to expect this person to have any chance of achieving any semblance of a ‘normal’ life, yet we make this assumption of animals that have had a life in captivity all the time. To assume they would be ‘happier’ in the wild, an environment they have no knowledge of, cannot find safety or shelter within, and in which they are likely to slowly starve to death as they await the accustomed delivery of food, is rather unrealistic.
We still feel that release is the best course of action for any slow loris surrendered to Matang. However, releasing animals with no attempt to follow, observe and document behaviour is neither responsible nor scientific, and is certainly not in accordance with IUCN guidelines. In 2014 we hosted a team from International Animal Rescue’s slow loris centre located in Ciapus, Java, who specialise in the rescue, care, and rehabilitation (where possible) of this primate. The process to responsibly attempt to release rescued slow lorises is as follows:
• Surrendered/confiscated lorises are submitted for medical check. Particular attention is paid to dentition as it is very common for lorises acquired from pet trade to have had their teeth cut. Disfiguration to their dentition renders a loris unsuitable for release.
• If they are deemed suitable for release they are placed in socialisation cages. These are large, forested, yet enclosed areas where the loris is able to express natural behaviour and acclimatise to a naturalistic space. When in these areas, the lorises are monitored for 12 hours through every night to collate data for the behavioural ethograms.
• The lorises are fitted with radio collars and are monitored for 4-8 weeks within the socialisation cages to allow enough data to be collected for the ethogram. Each loris is then individually evaluated on their suitability for release based on the results of the ethogram.
• If they display a good range of natural behaviour and are active throughout the night, they are released into the wild.
• For a minimum of 6 months, maximum of 12 months, each individual loris is monitored every night for a minimum of 12 hours while they are active and their behaviour recorded, as it was in the socialisation cage. This is to ensure they continue to adapt well to their natural environment and to document their health, diet and behaviour during their return to the wild.
• If the slow loris shows any signs of distress, fails to forage successfully or gets injured, it will be re-caught by the monitoring team and treated back at the centre.
• If after the monitoring period (6-12 months) the loris is deemed to be behaving naturally and generally succeeding in the wild, it will be re-caught by the monitoring team, have its radio collar removed, and then be returned to the wild and no longer monitored.
This process is labour intensive and requires a lot of resource to carry out. Each centre or conservation group continually needs to assess its own capacity, both in terms of human resource and available finances and prioritise where best to place these often extremely limited resources. These are very difficult decisions to have to make, sometimes on a daily basis, and it is not always possible to carry out what we know to be in the very best interests of the welfare of each individual animal.
Heavy rains over the last few weeks have slowed down this project somewhat, but the habituation area is now almost completed and ready for the lorises to move into, at which point some of our staff will need to switch to a nocturnal working routine in order to progress the behavioural monitoring. We will keep you updated on this project as it progresses!