3 species of slow loris recognised from Borneo

University of Missouri (MU) doctoral student and her colleagues recently identified three new species of slow loris. The primates had originally been grouped with another species, the Bornean slow loris (N. menagensis), but after a study of physiological and habitat differences, three new subspecies (N. bancanus, N. borneanus and N. kayan) were identified. Dividing the species into four distinct classes means the risk of extinction is greater than previously believed for the animals but could help efforts to protect the unusual primate.

The slow loris is a venomous primate with two tongues and would seem safe from the pet trade, but the big-eyed, teddy-bear face of the slow loris (Nycticebus sp.) has made them a target for illegal pet poachers throughout the animal’s range in south eastern Asia and nearby islands.

“Four separate species are harder to protect than one, since each species needs to maintain its population numbers and have sufficient forest habitat,” said lead author Rachel Munds, MU doctoral student. “Unfortunately, in addition to habitat loss and deforestation, there is a booming black market demand for the animals. They are sold as pets, used as props for tourist photos or dismembered for use in traditional Asian medicines.”

According to Munds, slow lorises are not domesticated and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. She contends that keeping the animals as pets is cruel and that domesticating them is not feasible. “Even zoos have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs for certain insects, tree gums and nectars,” said Munds. “Zoos rarely succeed in breeding them. Nearly all the primates in the pet trade are taken from the wild, breaking the bonds of the lorises’ complex and poorly understood social structures. The teeth they use for their venomous bite are then torn out. Many of them die in the squalid conditions of pet markets. Once in the home, pet keepers don’t provide the primates with the social, nutritional and habitat requirements they need to live comfortably. Pet keepers also want to play with the nocturnal animals during the day, disrupting their sleep patterns.”

The newly identified species hail from the Indonesian island of Borneo. Munds and her colleagues observed that the original single species contained animals with significantly different body sizes, fur thickness, habitats and facial markings. Museum specimens, photographs and live animals helped primatologists parse out four species from the original one. Now instead of one animal listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there may be four endangered or threatened species. This potential change in conservation status may serve to draw attention the plight of the primates and increase legal protections.

The pet trade isn’t the only threat to loris survival. The animals also are used in Asian traditional medicines. The methods used to extract the medicines can be exceedingly violent, according to Nekaris, who also is director of the slow loris advocacy organization, Little Fireface Project. For example, in order to obtain tears of the big-eyed lorises, skewers are inserted into the animals’ anuses and run through their bodies until they exit the mouth. The still-living animals are then roasted over a smoky fire and the tears that stream from their eyes are collected and used to supposedly treat eye diseases in humans.


New species discovered

Sixty species new to science, including a chocolate-coloured frog and a tiny dung less than 3mm long, have been discovered by scientists in . An expedition of scientists spent three weeks in 2012 exploring an area of rivers, mountains and rainforest in the south-eastern region of that has “virtually no human influence”. The Conservation International team found 11 of fish, one new snake, six new frogs and a host of new insects in the South American country.

Dr Trond Larsen, one of the field biologists with Conservation International (CI), said they were particularly surprised by the number of frogs. “With many frog species rapidly disappearing around the globe, we were surprised and uplifted to discover so many frogs potentially new to science, including a stunningly sleek ‘cocoa’ ,” he said.

The () was named after its chocolate colouring, and described as an “especially heartening” find by Larsen. It lives on trees, using the round discs on its fingers and toes to climb.

Among the other new finds were a ruby-coloured lilliputian beetle (), named after its tiny dimensions that make it possibly the second smallest dung beetle known in south American.

The remote nature of the area saw the team travel first by plane, then helicopter and then by boat and on foot, with help from 30 men from indigenous communities. At one point “relentless” rain saw the team forced to move after their campsite was flooded.

In total, they found 1,378 different species, and their report concluded “there are very few places left on Earth that are as pristine and untouched as this region.”

But despite the relatively pristine environment, it was not entirely free of human fingerprints – water samples showed mercury above levels safe for human consumption even though there is no upstream mining. The scientists concluded that the mercury was blown in on the wind.

“This demonstrates that even the most isolated and pristine parts of the world are not entirely sheltered from human impacts — all systems are interconnected,” said Larsen.

ImageImageI have been a long time supporter of Conservation International and I applaud the important work they are engaged in globally.

Good news for Rhino’s

Good news for the Sumatran Rhinoceros! Camera traps on the island of Borneo have recorded photo’s of Sumatran Rhino which up until recently were thought to be extinct in this location. The species is critically endangered. I spoke with Dr. Susie Ellis, Director of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), the scientific community believes there are less than 95 Sumatran rhinoceros left in the wild, Less than a dozen in captive breeding facilities. The Sumatran is the smallest of all five species, standing less than 4ft at the shoulder. IRF and other leading organizations are taking immediate action to save this species from extinction, mainly from poachers and deforestation.

A film on the Sumatran Rhino – “Rhinoceros: Curse of the Magic Horn” by Explora Productions will be screened at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, New York in less than two weeks, October 15-20. The film has received Honorable Mention for Best Education Category. For more information visit: WCFF.org