New species of cute, but venomous, primate discovered in Borneo


Researchers have described a new species of slow loris, a type of primate that is imperiled by the pet trade.

Researchers have described a new species of slow loris, a type of primate that is imperiled by the pet trade.

The Kayan loris (Nycticebus kayan) is described in the December issue of the American Journal of Primatology. It is named after the Kayan, a river that flows through its habitat in Indonesian Borneo.

The study — authored by Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University in the UK, Susan Ford of Southern Illinois University, and Rachel Munds from the University of Missouri — also elevated two subspecies to the species level, meaning that the loris formerly known as Nycticebus menagensis now consists of four species, three of which live in the forests of Borneo: Nycticebus bancanus, Nycticebus borneanus, and Nycticebus kayan. Nycticebus menagensis is limited to the Philippines.

Kayan loris. Photo by Ch’ien Lee

The researchers analyzed fur coloration on the body and face to distinguish between the loris species.

“In the first study to quantify facial mask differences we have recognized three new species of slow loris, two of which were recognized as subspecies at some point in the past, but are now elevated to species status, and one previously unrecognized group.” said Rachel Munds in a statement.

Elevating the lorises to species status will help better protect them against threats, the most significant of which are deforestation and the pet trade. Slow loris are widely trafficked, a problem made worse by YouTube videos which show pet owners playing with the adorable primate. To reduce the danger of biting, captive slow lorises typically have their teeth removed with pliers or fingernail clippers, without the use of an anesthetic. The capture and transportation of lorises also results in high levels of mortality. Once in captivity, lorises are rarely provided with the diverse diet they need to thrive.

According to Anna Nekaris, the new species-level status may complicate efforts to return confiscated lorises back to the wild, providing yet another reason why the animals shouldn’t be kept as pets.

“The pet trade is a serious threat for slow lorises in Indonesia, and recognition of these new species raises issues regarding where to release confiscated Bornean slow lorises, as recognition by non-experts can be difficult.”

Conservation status of lorises

There are at least ten species of loris found across Asia, although primatologists expect more to species to be described as further work is done on what are currently considered sub-species. All lorises have a toxic bite — unusual for mammals — and are omnivorous, feeding on eggs, nectar, insects, small animals, and fruit in the wild. Several species are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

R. Munds, S. Ford, K.A.I. Nekaris, “Taxonomy of the Bornean Slow Loris, with New Species Nycticbus Kayan (Priamtes Lorisdae)”, American Journal of Primatology, December 2012, DOI: 10.1002/22071

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(03/20/2012) A new campaign by The Body Shop West Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia attempts to raise awareness of the illegal slow loris pet trade. YouTube videos of “cute” pet slow lorises have raised demand for these endangered primates, but as the campaign highlights the pet trade is fueling slow loris deaths in the wild and cruel treatment, such as pulling out their teeth, to make them more desirable pets.

‘Cute’ umbrella video of slow loris threatens primate

(03/13/2011) A new video of a slow loris holding an umbrella in a pet store has been viewed nearly a million and a half times, yet such viral videos may imperil these ‘cute’ and endangered primates by encouraging an illegal and often cruel pet trade. “Most people who see them in this setting want one, too!” says Angelina Navarro-Montes, a graduate student at Oxford Brookes University who has conducted studies of the slow-loris Internet trade, told in 2009. “There is also a big misconception on [YouTube] and a lot of viewers think it’s perfectly legal to have them as pets.”

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