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The Slow Loris: The Venomous Primate

Updated on September 30, 2012

A Creature of the Night

A slow loris, a nocturnal primate in its natural habitat
A slow loris, a nocturnal primate in its natural habitat | Source

Background

Last night I sat and watched a ‘Natural World’ documentary on the BBC, about the slow loris, a rather strange looking arboreal creature with huge eyes and strangely familiar looking hands, that dwells in rain forests across South-East Asia. For mammals, they are quite unique, as they have extra vertebrae in their spine to allow for greater flexibility whilst moving through the trees. Indeed, as I watched them move, it almost seemed as if I was watching a furry snake slither silently through the tree boughs. Stranger still, they have just four digits on each hand, somewhere along the course of their evolution, they have lost a finger. But, as with most things in evolution, the loss of the finger does serve a specific purpose for the slow loris, it enables them to capture prey with much greater ease in the trees, that along with their extra vertebrae allow them to sneak up on their quarry, usually anything from insects to small birds virtually unnoticed. The next revelation, shocked me even further, I learnt that they secrete toxic venom from their elbows, which they mix with saliva when they bite; as a result this makes the slow loris, one of the world’s venomous mammals. Moreover the slow loris is in fact a type of primate, the very same order of mammals that we belong to. I found it quite astounding to think that we have a poisonous relative somewhere out there.

A Venomous Bite

A picture showing the formidable teeth of a slow loris
A picture showing the formidable teeth of a slow loris | Source

The Brachial Gland on the Loris' Elbow

The Brachial Gland (the black area near the elbow) is where the loris secretes its venom which it then mixes with saliva.
The Brachial Gland (the black area near the elbow) is where the loris secretes its venom which it then mixes with saliva. | Source

Venom

The program explored exactly what the function of the venom was, the obvious answer was to capture and kill prey, like snakes and spiders do, but that wasn’t the full answer. Most of the loris’ prey is relatively small and would be easy to catch, even without the venom. The next theory mentioned by the scientist, Dr. Anna Nekaris, was that it served to protect the loris from biting insects and ticks. She remarked that she had never seen a cleaner mammal than the loris. I was particularly interested when she conducted an experiment using blood sucking Leeches. She placed several in a saucer and then dabbed them with a sample of the loris’ saliva, astonishingly all of the leeches died after just several minutes.

The next theory she postulated was that the venom acted as a defence against predators, and again she decided to conduct an experiment using a rattan basket, a towel covered in loris scent, two cotton buds dabbed with venom and a female sun bear. Anna placed the basket in the cage, and after a few moments the bear was released. Instantly the bear was intrigued clawing and sniffing at the basket, but as soon as she caught scent of the cotton bud, she bade a hasty retreat. But she did not give up, curiosity forced to investigate a further couple of times, but with the same result. So, the venom served as a defensive as well as an offensive weapon.

The final theory was perhaps the venom served as a weapon when males fight over territory or a mate. One of the shocking things about the venom is that who or whatever is the unlucky recipient of the bite is permanently scarred with wounds that never fully heal. Images were shown of loris’ with rather gruesome bald patches on their head and flanks. Anna herself had been the victim of a Loris bite, she told how the wound had bled consistently for several days, and even after a few months it still looked like a fresh cut.

To most westerners like me, the idea of a venomous ,ammal seemed absurd. But the people of South-East Asia have known this for centuries. Indeed when Anna interviewed a local tribal elder, he declared that he was far more scared of encountering a loris, than a spider or a scorpion. He also stated that he did not hunt the loris, he and his tribe just simply gave it a wide berth.

Crammed into tiny cages

These loris' have been crammed into small cages ready to be sold to the highest bidder.
These loris' have been crammed into small cages ready to be sold to the highest bidder. | Source

The Shocking Video of a Slow Loris being Tickled after being Illegally Purchased

Dr. Anna Nekaris during her investigation

Source

Highlighting Animal Cruelty

Threats and Conservation

Anna wanted to desperately to see the loris’ in their natural habitat, so she travelled to the Indonesian Island of Java, a renowned biological hot spot abound with primates ranging from the tarsiers, Loris’ to monkeys and gibbons. The Island is supposedly a safe haven for the loris. But as she trekked through a protected jungle in the dead of night, she encountered not a single individual, where had they all gone? Eventually she and her local tracker managed to locate a lone loris clinging onto a surviving stand of bamboo, lost in one of the fields of vegetables planted by the inhabitants of a village that was barely fifty feet away. They watched as a creature, described as exclusively arboreal descended to the ground and walked clumsily across the ground. As I watched my strange looking primate cousin amble across the ground, I was struck at how similar it was to a tree sloth.

Next, the program shifted its attention to one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever witnessed in a documentary. The illegal pet trade is rife in places like Jakarta, despite the fact that it is totally illegal and that many of the animals being sold; including the Loris are protected species. Anna told us that the local police know what is going on, but they turn a blind eye to it. She wanted to investigate further, so she elected to go undercover as an ignorant western tourist, who was interested in buying an exotic pet. She approached dealers who kept the loris, along with monkeys, birds and cats in tiny, cramped cages; one dealer explained that the loris was very popular with Indonesian tourists, but also tourists from further afield, hailing from China, Japan and Russia. He told her that one animal sold for 25 US Dollars, to a Japanese tourist. After approaching several more, she witnessed something totally horrifying. A burly man lifted a relatively small crate onto the counter, Anna peered in and saw to her horror that it contained four Loris cramped together, with nothing to hold on to apart from each other. For Anna, this was the end; she made a quick getaway, just about holding herself together before she blew her cover. Once she was in the relative safety of the production van, she broke down and wept openly. At that point, I felt like crying too, not just for the plight of the loris, but also for the monkeys’ with their wide eyes full of fear, the same sort of fear you would recognise on a human face.

The loris’ abduction into the illegal pet trade however, is especially cruel. As I’ve mentioned the locals are all too aware of the toxic contained in the animal’s saliva. So what the dealers do is to remove their canines and lower incisors to ensure that they will not harm them or their prospective new owners. The problem comes when an illegally traded loris is then rescued by people like Anna, without its teeth, it cannot use its venom; therefore it can never be released back into the wild, sentencing them to a lifetime in captivity. Anna did mention that she had tried to rehabilitate rescued loris’ into the wild, but not one of them had managed to survive, purely because they need the venom to help with hunting but also for protection from a number of different things including their own kind.

Another shocking fact that emerged from this documentary was the fact that some loris owners had decided for whatever reason to post videos on YouTube of themselves tickling their pet. At first glance they do look cute, with their furry bodies, large heads and large eyes; they bear a strange resemblance to babies. We humans have a fixation on the cute and cuddly, we cannot help it, we seem to have a ‘cute’ instinct. But it is this very cuteness that may cost the loris its existence as a wild animal, thanks in part to the YouTube videos; demand for these primates has sky-rocketed. All I can say is that if you are thinking of getting one for a pet, then don’t; because you would help to fuel, what is an illegal industry and also denying a protected species a chance to live a natural existence. If you do watch the videos, then try to look past the cuteness, and understand that these people are breaking international law. The slow loris is a fascinating creature, the world’s only venomous mammal. Moreover it’s a primate, thus making it a close relative, the forward facing eyes and grasping hands that have nails rather than claws are a testament to that. It’s just one out of a large number of our closest relatives that need to be protected by us from us.

More evidence of the Illegal Pet Trade in Java

This time, the victim is an even closer relative, a baby orang-Utan.
This time, the victim is an even closer relative, a baby orang-Utan. | Source

© 2012 James Kenny

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    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      M.J 5 years ago

      I'm sorry, but I am confused did people miss the part that said it is illegal period to have these animals as pets!!!!! Of course the person posting the video is going to claim they got it through legal means, which by the way not possible, it is illegal to own one. You saw a two minute video that looked cute of him being tickled. Did you see the video where his teeth were filed down or removed, so that it would be safe to tickle him????? I'm sure that was great enjoyment for him. I am college student who is studying this species for a paper, this is an endangered species, and we are wiping out there habitat as it is, and your trying to justify making them pets which could possibly end their exsistence all together. Truly I have to ask where is your brain???

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks sgbrown, hopefully if more people are made aware of what's going on. Then the illegal pet trade will stop, and the Loris can survive in peace. Thanks for the social share

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Wonderful hub! Very well written and great information. It's a shame the humans can treat animals in such a way. I hope people realize that wild animals are not to be kept as pets. I have voted this up, awesome and SOCIALLY SHARING!

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 5 years ago from Washington state

      I love how you put 'The Shocking Video' above the clip of a loris being tickled. Yes, shocking! Because giving an animal a warm home, true affection, and the proper care it needs is all in the utmost disregard to the sanctity of life and everything that is holy.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

      Their webpage says it is from a 'slow loris nursery'. Whether or not that is true remains to be determined. I would still prefer to keep an open mind about this.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I agree Sherry, it makes me sad too.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Well, whether legal or not, captive bred or not, seeing them in these cages is very sad. I know it's just as bad for more common species, like chickens, but it all just makes me sad.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Melissa, thanks for commenting I must admit as far as the Loris in the video goes, I'm not sure whether it came from a captive population, but I doubt it. The only way that guy could have bought it, is to either apply for a permit, which are always rejected, considering the animals are protected.Or he lives in a country that doesn't adhere to the CITES (Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna)treaty, other than that he must have bought it illegally. I also know for a fact, that particular Loris has had his canines and lower incisors filed down, which is very cruel, painful for the Loris, and can lead to death from infection.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks annart. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe the animal in that youtube video is captive bred. If so, I certainly know I wouldn't appreciate being accused of harming wildlife just because I legally own animals that have descended from captive populations, thus not directly harming anything in the wild. Blame the people who get them off the black market. It's easy for me to determine which animals have come from it.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      What an interesting hub! Like you say, a venemous relative! Mind you I can think of a few of my own! You have a great knack of gathering and sharing lots of information on so many things. Voted up, awesome and interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Joe, I'd heard of the Slow Loris, but I had no idea that it was venomous, or that it was being exploited in the pet trade. Hopefully the word will spread and the industry will be shut down forever.

    • Joe Macho profile image

      Zach 5 years ago from Colorado

      Wow, I've never even heard of the Slow Loris. It's disheartening to hear of their role in the illegal pet trade. What ever happened to just cats and dogs? This type of issue starts with awareness. Great job. Voted up and shared.