With the start of Slow Loris Outreach Week (SLOW), it’s fitting we turn our attention to one of the most cute and intriguing animals on Earth. Lorises populate most of Experience Travel’s holiday destinations in Southeast Asia, in tropical and woodland forests of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam . Sadly, these furry little primates are faced with the very real threat of extinction. To protect their survival it’s good to wise-up on the Loris’ story and learn how best we can help them as holidaymakers. I got in touch with a leading expert, Prof. Anna Nekaris for her advice.
‘If you go on Instagram, the first photo you see of a Slow Loris is of one with somebody on holiday. Studies have shown that their visibility make people believe they are not endangered, with the pictures’ spread on social media acting like a domino effect.’ This is ironic because The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have labelled seven of the eight species of Loris as ‘vulnerable’ and one ‘critically endangered’. Just because you see them a lot in online pictures, does not mean to say there are many in the wild.
Anna continues, ‘When we see a cute baby animal on holiday, people immediately want to hold it and take photos of it, but we must remember that generally 99/100 times the animal is illegal. Photos only encourage their illegal trade.’ Poorly judged celebrity endorsements by the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, using them in music videos and Instagram pictures, have also not helped changed their image as a photo prop. These animals are usually sourced from the illegal pet trade where Lorises are taken from the wild, have their canine teeth clipped and are kept in cramped cages until sale. These are all extremely stressful experiences for the usually shy and solitary animals. Pictures posing with these animals only help to sustain this abuse.
‘Another problem is well-intentioned tourists who buy abused Slow Lorises from street vendors wishing to pass them on to a rescue centre,’ continues Anna. ‘This leads to sellers mistreating the Lorises even more to make them look worse so they sell easier. Often rescue centres cannot take in animals from tourists, only the police. The best thing you can do if you see any illegal animals is to report it to the local police or a nearby rescue centre and give the money you would have spent buying the animal to local programmes that help them.’
Away from the cities and tourist hotspots there are other practises that are further endangering the animal. ‘There are some semi-captive Lorises kept in parks and their ‘carers’ pick them up for flash photography with tourists (Lorises are nocturnal and are usually only active when it is dark),’ reports Anna. ‘This is really bad for their eyes as it degrades their retina leading to significant damage to their sight. Not only this but it’s the baby Lorises that are easiest to catch and sometimes their mothers cannot find them after they have been handled, making the young extremely vulnerable.’
Even when the animals are not manipulated into poses, photographing Lorises in the wild can be problematic. Anna explains, ‘If you do happen to see a Loris in the wild and you do want to take a picture, try to use red filtered flash light. This prevents damage to their eyes which are so important for their survival.’ It is also important to note that Lorises have a poisonous venom and can carry rabies, so it is best not to go too close to the animal. ‘Unless you’re a professional wildlife photographer, it’s pretty hard to get a good shot.’ Anna summarises ‘if you are lucky enough to come across a wild Loris, you are best to avoid taking photo of the animal at all and to just enjoy seeing one in the moment.’
Lorises have killer looks. It seems the more people melt over their cuteness, the more we are threatening their survival. Practical measures to empower and enlighten others about the issues surrounding Loris conservation are the best way we can help preserve their existence. In a final remark, Anna highlighted a way in which we can help to protect these animals at home. ‘Write to English speaking newspapers within your holiday destination in Southeast Asia about your concern and write to embassies when you return home to voice your opinion.’ Tourism is an important industry within Southeast Asia and you voice will have an impact.
A final way to support conservation efforts is to help spread the word of organisations like the Little Fire Face Project. Founded by Anna Nekaris, the group aims to preserve the animal through research, education and empowerment. As holidaymakers, if we enlighten ourselves with issues surrounding Lorises, we have significant power to change their fate for the better.
Many thanks to Prof. Anna Nekaris for her time and insights. Thanks also to Louisa Musing (MSc. Primate Conservation) for her advice and suggestions.
For more information about holidays where Lorises are native, please see: