|Pygmy Slow Loris N.pygmaeus|
A member of the loris family is easily recognised. The tail is short or absent, the hands are modified to give a good grip on slender vines and branches, and the very large eyes face forwards. They do not jump, but instead move methodically through the forest with something of the gait of a chameleon. In many ways, they behave almost like chameleons, and their hands are modified by the reduction of the second digit which gives their hands a very chameleon-like appearance. As with chameleons, they seldom drink standing water, but have been seen to lick raindrops off leaves.
- Loris. The slender lorises, with two species and at least 6 identifiable forms. Found from India and Sri Lanka
- Nycticebus. The slow lorises, with two species and numerous regional varieties. Found in South East Asia
- Arctocebus. The Angwantibos. 2 species in West Africa
- Perodictus. The Potto. At least 3 forms, also in West Africa
Lorises have historically not done well as captive animals, and for most species there is no viable captive population, and why this is so has only recently been understood.
As a result of these dietary specialisations, lorises are prone when fed on a diet high in sugars from fruits and lacking in insect and animal protein to develop kidney disease, diabetes, and dental disease, with predictable results.
The other main problem with captive lorises is that despite their size they pose a serious risk to people coming in contact with them. A slow moving, easily captured species needs some defence, and lorises have a defense unique among primates, and indeed mammals – they have a poisonous bite. The loris “arms” itself by licking glands on its arms, and an enzyme in the saliva then transforms the secretion into one capable of causing serious allergic reactions, even death, after biting its attackers. The same poisonous saliva is used by the mother to protect her infants – before “parking” them on a branch before going off to feed she licks them all over, rendering them distasteful to predators at the least. The loris has a stereotyped threat display where they hold their arms over their head, with the brachial glands at the ready, and I personally suspect that the contrasting head patterns many lorises show may actually constitute warning colouration to reinforce the display.
Although as I mentioned earlier lorises are seldom kept in captivity, we are fortunate to have the pygmy slow loris here at Bristol in Twilight World, and have bred them on several occasions. Ranging into southern China, the pygmy slow loris reaches quite high elevations, and in the winter months puts on a considerable amount of weight and goes into a near torpor.
Well, what are the implications of all this for the loris? First of all, it shows the importance of field studies. Animals in captivity can be the source of valuable information, but studies of wild animals are vital to enable us to provide what animals actually need in captivity, instead of what we think they need. The other is what amazing animals they are, and how vital it is that they are conserved in the wild for future generations.
|Baby Pygmy Slow Loris, 2012|
Bristol Zoo Gardens is now home to twin baby pygmy slow lorises. These are the 11th and 12th successful births at the zoo, following the arrival of four lorises from Poznan zoo in 1999.
For further information there is a good website: www.loris-conservation.org
(images from Wikipedia, Bristol Zoo)