Slow loris expert: Lady Gaga may have put herself in danger by handling venomous, endangered primate
Lady Gaga photo from @ladygaga. Loris photo courtesy of Little Fireface
Last week, the musical artist, Lady Gaga, was “nipped” by the world’s only venomous primate, a slow loris, in a misguided attempt to use the animal in a new music video. After it bit the musician, the idea of using the primate in the video was dropped. This was just as well, according to loris expert Anna Nekaris, who says that slow lorises have become increasingly endangered worldwide by the illegal pet trade after people have seen them on YouTube videos.
“Slow lorises are one of the most sought after illegal exotic pets. As it is extremely difficult to breed them in captivity, these fragile animals are culled from the wild in unsustainable numbers and are kept as pets within Asia as well as shipped illegally around the world,” Nekaris, founder of the Little Fireface Project which works to study and conserve slow lorises, told mongabay.com.
In order to obtain a slow loris for the illegal wildlife trade, poachers steal them from the wild. Slow loris in captivity are usually unable to clean themselves properly and are thus covered in urine and feces. The poachers usually pull out the sharp loris teeth using pliers to make them more palpable to pet owners. Such harsh tactics, combined with unsuitable diets, mean many slow lorises die even before they are sold.
This baby Sumatran slow loris has little chance to survive. Only a few weeks old, it should live with its mother in the wild for 14 months, but instead is being sold into the pet trade, doomed to a diet of bananas and rice. Photo by: The Little Fireface Project.
Nekaris is not sure how the animal trainer in question got hold of this particular slow loris, but it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that the animal was obtained in just such a way. Slow lorises are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, so that the overwhelming majority held as pets are taken from the wild.
“I am aware of some professional animal handlers either obtaining a slow loris illegally through smuggling or buying a Slow loris from a reputed professional breeder. But again, these animals are so difficult to breed in the wild, the likelihood that was wildborn seems more likely,” she said. Currently, all eight species of slow loris are considered threatened with extinction.
A slew of YouTube videos has highlighted slow lorises as cute pets, fueling the illegal trade. But these are wild animals with specialized diets, nocturnal habits, and dangerous bites. In the case of Lady Gaga, she may have actually been putting herself in danger by handling the poisonous animal.
“[The slow loris] bite never evolved to kill a human, but many people are sensitive to the toxin, and a bite can result in anaphylactic shock and death,” Nekaris told mongabay.com. “Many such cases are anecdotal — that is a bitten person never felt the need to publish it in a medical journal…but in almost all areas where I have studied slow lorises there are reports that people have died or lost body parts (e.g. finger or half an arm!) from the bite. At the very best, the wounds take weeks to heal.”
Javan slow loris that was attacked by another slow loris, showing the devastating affects of slow loris venom (photo by Johanna Rode)
However, it appears that Lady Gaga and her crew were largely ignorant of the animal’s endangered status and its venomous bite.
“The slow loris is the cutest creature on the planet, and Lady Gaga wanted to use it in one scene, but it nipped her. They put it back in its box and took it away in disgrace,” an anonymous source told Page Six.
The incident has also led the International Animal Rescue (IAR) to kick-off a campaign to tell celebrities to stop using wild animals as objects of entertainment.
“We’re calling on celebrities to ‘drop the props’ if they’re thinking of using wildlife in their acts. There is nothing cool or clever about exploiting wild animals in this way and genuine talent doesn’t need to use or abuse animals to be successful,” Alan Knight, the head of IAR, said in a statement.
Nekaris also said Lady Gaga, who reportedly laughed off the incident, could now do slow lorises a good turn by speaking out for the threatened primates.
“Lady Gaga could admit that she had not realized how endangered the slow loris is. She also might note that she had seen many YouTube videos and had not realized that the animals in those videos were illegal and wildcaught.”
Slow lorises have very sharp teeth that deliver their unique venom, produced by combining saliva and oil from the brachial gland – photo by Michael Williams
The public can help slow lorises by demanding that YouTube remove the videos of pet slow lorises and support conservation groups working with the threatened primates, according to Nekaris. People can also “write to their local embassies, particularly of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand, requesting harsh penalties for slow loris traders, noting they will not give tourism revenue to countries that advocate the draining of their wild heritage,” she said.
Close-up of Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Photo courtesy of Little Fireface.
(09/23/2013) On Friday R&B singer, Rihanna, posed in Thailand with a slow loris, an endangered primate that is often illegally touted on the streets of Southeast Asia by pet dealers. The picture, which the celebrity shared on instagram, went viral, and over the weekend Thai police arrested two men—one 20 and one 16—who allegedly provided the slow loris to the Rihanna for the impromptu photo.
(07/25/2013) It all started with a video: in 2009 a Russian man uploaded a video of himself tickling his exotic pet (a pygmy slow loris) from Vietnam onto the hugely popular site YouTube. Since then the video has been viewed over half a million times. But a new study in the open source journal in PLoS ONE, finds that such YouTube videos have helped fuel a cruel, illegal trade that is putting some of the world’s least-known primates at risk of extinction. Lorises are small, shy, and nocturnal primates that inhabit the forests of tropical Asia, but the existence of all eight species is currently imperiled by a booming illegal pet trade that has been aided by videos of lorises being tickled, holding tiny umbrellas, or doing other seemingly cute (but wholly unnatural) things.
(06/04/2013) Before Anna Nekaris began championing the cause of the world’s lorises, little was known about this cryptic family of large-eyed, nocturnal, insect-eating, venomous primates. Nekaris, with Oxford Brookes University and founder of the Little Fireface project, has been instrumental in documenting rarely-seen loris behavior, establishing conservation programs, and identifying new species of these hugely-imperiled Asian primates.