Published 8 January 2015

Brisk trade threatens slow lorises

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 8th January 2015—A little-known venomous primate may be heading towards extinction due to the high demand for its use in traditional medicine. Surveys conducted in early 2014 by Oxford Brookes University and TRAFFIC in the border area between China and Myanmar have revealed the scale of the trade in Bengal Slow Lorises. 

Bengal Slow Loris, Mong La.  © Vincent Nijman

Much of this trade takes place across an international border, in direct contravention of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) while the Bengal Slow Loris is also a nationally protected species in Myanmar. 

Oxford Brookes’s Professor Vincent Nijman said: “Based on all the data collected in the Myanmar border town of Mong La in recent years, we estimate that at least a thousand Bengal Slow Lorises are traded each year in this market town alone and because of the inherent difficulties in conducting research on illegal activities, we expect the true number to be considerably higher.”

Slow lorises are a group of primates comprising eight species occurring in South and South-East Asia. They are the only known venomous primates and their bite can lead to severe anaphylactic shock in humans. Bengal Slow Lorises are the largest of the species, weighing up to two kilogrammes. The species is listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. 

Slow lorises are threatened by a combination of habitat loss and over-exploitation, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the wildlife markets of Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and southern China. 

While slow lorises in many parts in Asia are traded as exotic pets, in Mong La the animals were killed, dissected and dried, with the individual body parts, such as the arms, legs, skin and skeleton sold separately as medicine. 

“Although international trade in slow lorises is regulated under CITES, enforcement of the regulations is minimal in certain border markets such as Mong La, which seriously undermines the very intentions of the Convention,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

Professor Anna Nekaris, an expert on slow lorises, added: “Our ongoing studies into the diverse slow loris group reveals there are a number of different species within it: this makes the impact of trade on individual species perhaps far more severe than previously supposed.” 

Trade in Bengal slow lorises in Mong La, Myanmar on the China border (PDF, 500 KB) by Vincent Nijman, Chris R. Shepherd and K. Anne-Isola Nekaris is published in the open access journal Primate Conservation.