The conservation chronicle of the slow loris – a small, shy, primate found in Southeast Asia – is particularly tragic, and central to its story lies unfortunate misinterpretation, modern technology and senseless exploitation.
Slow lorises are casualties of their own ‘cuteness’. Characteristics they have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to jungle environments, have in the past decade been anthropomorphized – an action that has had catastrophic consequences.
Their big round eyes, designed to enable nocturnal vision, to uninformed humans appear to give out an adoring, bewildered, gaze. Their slow, calculated movement, adapted to assist their aboreal lifestyle in the wild, is perceived as a calm, content demeanor. Actions that seem enchanting, such as ‘smiling’ and lifting up its arms, are also desperately misinterpreted. This is in fact a defensive stance – the loris is trying to collect venom from its elbow glands to administer with its fangs.
This conceived ‘cuteness’ is particularly disastrous in the context of modern hyper-connectivity and social media. About seven years ago, people started posting videos of their (illegal) pet slow lorises on the internet – which has proved a fatally effective marketing tool. Now the web is littered with videos of slow lorises being tickled, dressed up, and even pole dancing; and they’ve been viewed by tens of millions of people worldwide.
Not only is this cruel and misleading, it also has dire knock-on effects. To satisfy the inevitable boom in demand that followed viral viewing stats for the videos, criminal networks began rampantly poaching and smuggling lorises from the wild. In the past 25 years, the Javan Slow Loris subspecies alone has declined by 80%, according to the IUCN. In just one incident in November 2013, almost 240 slow lorises were seized in Java. They had been stuffed in boxes and were destined for enslavement in the exotic pet trade – just the surface of an extensive and established underground trade stretching from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the USA, Russia and Japan.
Sadly, being poached from the wild to serve as an accessory in a senseless social media trend is not the sum of the slow lorises woes. Much of its habitat – forests stretching from Bangladesh and China to Indonesia – is being subject unprecedented rates of deforestation. This pushes this unfortunate species ever closer to human settlements, and the risk of being caught, traded, and sold.
The only way to stop this exploitation is to eliminate demand, and let people know that despite its ‘cute’ countenance, a captive slow loris secretly hates its life, and its captor. Not just that, it is uncomfortable, terrified and most likely physically unwell. They are not suitable pets, and buying one perpetuates a trade that will eventually lead to the extinction of slow lorises in the wild.
Please help spread the word, and #FreeLoris by sharing this article, our PSA and the Freeland TV episode on the slow loris.