The Venomous Primate: Slow Loris

As cute as it is, slow loris is the only extant venomous primate. Unprecedented forest decline along with unchecked illegal wildlife trade possess a dire threat to the biodiversity and the slow loris population in the Southeast Asian Countries. The effect of this is more emphasised on charismatic species like elephants, tigers, orangutans, etc. It is observed that these creatures are given the face of a particular conservation conundrum. For instance, the golden lion tamarins are given the face for forest fragmentation, elephants are known for human-wildlife conflict, orangutans are known for the forest loss due to palm oil plantation, and many more. Due to this, the smaller, non-conspicuous species often go unnoticed. The slow loris is one of those species.

Bengal Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis); Courtesy- Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Slow lorises are individuals which belong to the genus Nycticebus. They are a heavily threatened group of Asian mammals. Forest loss and illegal trade are issues that are looming over lorises. The rapid loss of vegetation is making these slow moving creatures more prone to predation and the rampant illegal wildlife trade is adding to the toll on these species. Some organisations have already started to recognise slow lorises as the face of illegal wildlife trade. Slow lorises are believed to have high medicinal value in most of the south eastern countries. Due to this, these creatures are hunted down, for their medicinal value is believed to treat up to 100 ailments. Illegal wildlife trade is evident in both national and international level mostly in the form of pet trade. However, it has been observed that slow lorises are also used as photo-props whereby tourists in bars, clubs and beaches may take their photo with the wild caught animals. These creatures were not known to the public and for many years until recently it gained fame on Youtube. These cute slow loris videos were streamed and viewed by millions of people worldwide. This in turn increased the masses desire to have a slow loris as a pet. But all of these videos had in them illegally captured slow lorises. However, this same medium can be used to create  awareness and educate the masses about the plight of slow lorises and the threat of the illegal wildlife trade on their population. The countenance of these teddy bear-like primates with forward facing eyes harness the ability to create empathy, making the slow lorises a suitable animal to put a ‘face’ to the increasing international threat of the illegal pet and photo-prop trade.

The illegal wildlife trade attracted attention of the conservation community to the slow lorises. In 2007, the genus Nycticebus  was transferred to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The five then-recognised species in 2008 were listed as Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In 2013, one new species of slow loris, the Kalyan slow loris, N. kalyan  was elevated to species level. A reassessment of the Javan slow loris N. javanicus was concluded as Critically Endangered by IUCN. Although all countries have given legal protection to slow lorises to some extent, in most of them they are traded openly with little legal intervention and protection. The lack of data about these enigmatic creatures makes it difficult to assess the impact of wildlife trade. Also, lack of ecological data makes it difficult to keep the rescued slow lorises in captivity as the feed formulation and habitat is not well known. It also makes it difficult to maintain an insurance population.

The family Lorisidae remains to be the most understudied primate family. This may be due to their highly nocturnal nature and their occurrence in areas of high insurgency, making its study difficult. These are arboreal creatures that cannot leap but instead bridge between gaps in the forest canopy. Although they are extremely arboreal they are found in numerous habitats, from primary forest to coastal, montane, disturbed agroforests and suburban gardens. 

Slow lorises live in pairs with 1-4 offsprings. They are gouging specialists. They anchor their teeth into bark to produce holes from which exudates emerge and are licked by a long tongue. The toothcomb also renders the loris venomous. They use their toothcomb to inject venom into their victims. They also use this venom to lick their fur which reduces the ectoparasites. Slow loris population in various countries remain unknown. Many information like if different species of slow lorises are sympatric or allopatric. Their phylogeny and many other aspects are yet to be revealed. Believes regarding slow lorises differ from region to region. In some areas it is a taboo to capture slow lorises as pets whereas others have a strong belief that the venomous property of slow lorises is a vital commodity. Understanding the local beliefs are vital in formulating conservation plans of these creatures. It is often difficult to reintroduce the rescued lorises back into the wild as due to the cruel practice of illegal pet-trade, whereby the teeth of slow lorises are removed to prevent them from biting, thus they cannot gouge in the wild. Due to this they have to be kept in captivity and thus knowing the diet of these creatures is essential. The misconception that these animals are slow and solitary has led to their release in very small forests in large numbers, release with no monitoring, release of non endemic species, release into areas where no ecological assessment has also been conducted. Thus the survival rate of these rescued animals is very low. Thereby mercy release should also be kept in check. 


[1]K. Nekaris and C. Starr, "OVERVIEW: Conservation and ecology of the neglected slow loris: priorities and prospects", Endangered Species Research, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 87-95, 2015. Available: 10.3354/esr00674 [Accessed 14 August 2020].

[2]K. Nekaris, N. Campbell, T. Coggins, E. Rode and V. Nijman, "Correction: Tickled to Death: Analysing Public Perceptions of ‘Cute’ Videos of Threatened Species (Slow Lorises – Nycticebus spp.) on Web 2.0 Sites", PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 2013. Available: 10.1371/annotation/7afd7924-ca2b-4b9c-ac1b-2cc656b3bf42 [Accessed 14 August 2020].

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