The sad new trend in Phuket’s tourist areas –slow lorises as photo-props

By Petra Osterberg

There is clearly a lucrative market for wildlife as photo–prop animals in Phuket’s crowded tourist areas. For decades hundreds of thousands of tourists every year have been descending onto this tropical island to enjoy a holiday in the sun and part of the experience often includes holiday snaps with local exotic wildlife. Tourists are either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the fact that these animals are most often endangered in the wild and that they are inevitably wild caught for this sad trade. There is absolutely no reason to pay the “owner” money in order for him to afford feeding his pet, as these animal handlers often claim to lure soft hearted tourists. There are no animal welfare concerns in this business. The animals are often drugged or mutilated in order to be safe to handle and once mature, too sick or otherwise unsuited for the job, they are discarded or locked in small cages to wither away. Rescue centers end up receiving some of these animals after confiscations by authorities, but rehabilitation is often made difficult by contagious diseases and physical and psychological damage to the animals caused by their traumatic time with humans.


Barely has the trade in baby gibbons here on Phuket trickled out, thanks at least partially to the collaboration between the local Thai Forestry Department and the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP), before the next new thing is here: the slow loris.


GRP has been keeping a record of gibbons and other wildlife used for entertainment around the island for many years now and 2012 has been the year when the lorises took over. From reports of a single loris spotted in Patong at the beginning of this year, by September we are receiving daily reports of up to 10 -15 slow lorises being paraded around in broad daylight. Many individuals are dressed up in cute little clothes and portrayed as anything but the wild, nocturnal, animals they are. And tourists appear to be falling for their charm. There is no shortage of paying customers for these photo shoots, as am I able to conclude on my most recent visit to Patong on the 10th of September. Within a few hours in a single afternoon we were able to identify nine individual lorises, belonging to several different subspecies of Nycticebus bengalensis.


Phuket island does have a native population of slow lorises, but no studies have been conducted here and since the island falls within a crossover zone between two species; Nycticebus cougang and bengalensis, it is as yet unknown which one is native here, or whether Phuket actually is a natural hybridization zone between the two. What is clear, however, is that many of the lorises exhibited for tourist photos in Patong have certainly been wild caught elsewhere inAsia and smuggled onto Phuket to make money on the tourists. Experts advise strongly against “hard releases” of captive slow lorises back into the wild, as reintroductions of this genus are extremely complicated. Further, it is strictly against international guidelines to release non-native species into areas where they do not belong.


To deal with this new problem and sudden influx of captive lorises in Phuket, authorities have a lot of catching up to do. Confiscations do not work as long as the punishment for offenders is so minuscule that they can pay their fine and return to the streets with new animals within a week or two. Reporting the offenders currently forces authorities to confiscate, which will only lead to even more lorises arriving here and suffering short, tragic lives. There is also currently no appropriate local rehabilitation centre with the capacity to house the large number of confiscated animals.

The root of the problem are the paying western tourists to Phuket who do not have a clue as to their own involvement in bringing an endangered species closer to the brink of extinction when they pay for a holiday photo. Educating western tourists here thus becomes the key in saving the slow loris from this new cruel fate that is threatening their survival.

Accolades to Indian enforcement and rescue teams: pygmy lorises in India doing well!

You may have seen the comments left on our site from Mr Rohit Upadhyaya, terminal manager of IGI Airport, New Delhi, where two pygmy slow lorises were confiscated this week.

He tells me that he has been in touch with Dr Zamil Ahmed, at Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre at New Delhi, who administered  first aid to both lorises on 9th Sept and returned them to the Wildlife Dept on 10th. Till then both lorises were well.

They have since been moved to National Zoological Park Hospital at New Delhi where Dr.Manoj is taking care of them, and again they are doing well.

He also writes that Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre at New Delhi is a NGO deeply involved in animal rescue. This organization is also special because it is under personal supervision of our Honorable Lady MP Mrs. Maneka Gandhi. To visit their page, click here.

Lorises are animals extremely susceptible to stress. These two are certainly survivors, and have clearly fallen into kind and capable hands. Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia has also commented that Indian law enforcement are regularly on top of these issues. We all can see how easy it would have been for these lorises to go undetected and we again applaud the whole team at IGI for their efforts, and are here for any queries to help with the continued care and maintenance of the lorises.

Latest international smuggling of pygmy slow loris

From IndiaTVNews – amended where appropriate.

New Delhi, Sep 10 : Two rare Slow Loris ‘monkeys ‘were seized by alert CISF guards at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on Sunday from three Dubai nationals who had come from Thailand, and were about to leave for Dubai. This video link highlights the horrors those lorises went through.

(AN: the pygmy loris does not occur in Thailand so this is a double international smuggling that these animals suffered through)

The three passengers Al Dhaheri Hamad, Al Shamsi Mohammed and Al Shamsi Rashid arrived on Sunday at about 12:30 pm  from Bangkok by Jet Airways  flight 9W 063. They approached for frisking at transfer to fly by another Jet Airways flight  9W 548 to Dubai, when their gait caught the notice of CISF guards.

During frisking, one tiny monkey of species pygmy Loris was found from the underwear of one of the passengers. The passenger, in fact, had worn two underwears, and the tiny ‘monkey’ was wrapped in a sock.

Another tiny’ monkey’ of the same species was found abandoned in a dustbin of the terminal while the search was in progress.

We should note that the PRESS has picked this up as funny with headlines like ‘monkey in his pants’ but imagine the suffering these guys went through. How can this horror story turn comedy?

The shift-in-charge of CISF was instructed to call in wildlife experts and Delhi Police was also informed. The officials came at around 5 pm, and all three passengers were booked under various sections of law.

There was a five-hour gap in air transit, and the way the three passengers were walking caught the attention of security guards. They appear to stumble as they walked and all the three were stopped for frisking.

The three passengers admitted that they have been indulging in this smuggling trade earlier too.

The cost of these pygmy lorises is very high in the Middle East and they are used for making sex stimulant medicines and for sorcery

The newspaper quoted a customs official saying the men were fined and sent back to Bangkok with the protected species and eggs they were trying to smuggle. AN this is terrible as they are also illegal to import them into Thailand! But another newspaper says this:

Both the monkeys have been sent to Raja Garden hospital for treatment, where their conditions is said to be critical.

Let’s hope they did not get sent back to Thailand poor guys…


Loris Awareness Week Coming Soon!

In about one month’s time, on 17th September, we will launch Loris Awareness Week! Before this time you will see many exciting additions to the web site, chances for you to show your support for loris conservation, and exciting new developments in our slow loris research and conservation activities. The week will culminate in Prof Anna Nekaris giving a public community lecture at the Cornerstone Theatre in Didcot near Oxford. Information will be available soon!

To mark the activities leading up this event, we have made our first ever project video, highlighting not only the plight of the loris, but the some of the activities that we are doing to help the loris. We will be launching some other videos throughout the month about loris behaviour, ecology and conservation.

Congratulations to the world’s newest Loris Doctor

On the 19th of July 2012, Richard ‘Jim’ Moore successfully defended this PhD thesis entitled Ethics, ecology and evolution of Indonesian slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.) rescued from the pet trade at Oxford Brookes University.

I first came to know Richard when he was an undergraduate at Oxford Brookes. After pursuing a degree in Japanese studies, and spending a year abroad in Japan, Richard also started a degree in Anthropology, and successfully procured a scholarship to spend the summer in Sri Lanka studying one of the world’s top 25 most Endangered primates – the Western purple-faced langur. This meticulous study led to three scientific publications.

Richard then spent a field season in Cambodia with me and Dr Carly Starr to study the pygmy slow loris – it was there he earned his nickname Jim, when it was decided the name Richard was just too difficult to pronounce! And also where he decided that he was well-suited to nocturnal fieldwork.

Shortly thereafter, Jim met with CEO of International Animal Rescue Alan Knight who was looking for the perfect person to spend two years on a project that not only required the mental fortitude to deal with the heart break of wildlife trade, but the physical ability to scale one of Java’s most difficult mountains, to monitor scientifically IAR’s release programme of slow lorises. Jim rose to the challenge, to which the successful completion of his PhD attests. Congratulations Dr Richard ‘Jim’ Moore!

Hiding from the Moonlight!

Our research on the pygmy slow loris has been published this weekend in the prestigious journal PlosOne. By reading the article and leaving an informed comment, you can help to increase the impact of our loris research and spread the message even further! You can access the article for FREE here!


Slow Loris at the Forefront of Conservation Campaigns

Posted on 18/03/2012

Our beautiful little firefaces are chosen to highlight two major conservation campaigns.

From the TRAFFIC SE ASIA’S web site:  A YouTube sensation and a counterfeit cure for HIV/AIDS are amoung the starts of a campaign by the Body Shop West Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia calling for urgent action to stop illegal wildlife trade.

The Slow Loris, one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world, shot to fame after various videos of the animal’s cute antics on YouTube went viral.

A public enamoured by its cute and cuddly appearance is fuelling the illegal trade with little realization that Slow Loris infants are often stolen from their mothers to cater for the clamour for the adorable pet.  The mothers are often killed or sold separately – either way leaving the young on their own with little hope of survival.

The Slow Loris and its story will front the ‘Where’s My Mama? 2.0@ campaign by the Body Shop and TRAFFIC that aims ti raise awareness amoung consumers about the impact their chosices have on nature.

The Slow Loris is also hightlighted in EAZA IUCN/SSC’s Southest Asia campaign to save biodiversity.

Suggested Videos to Provide Conservation Awareness…

Posted on 18/02/2012

The following links are to highly unpleasant loris videos with lorises kept as pets and the first we would like to target in hopes that they would be removed or that their posters would at least provide viewers with access to loris conservation materials/links/messages:

Loris Conservation Success – Loris Army March Forward!

Posted on 17/02/2012

On the 9th February at approximately 3pm, Wired removed the notorious ‘tickling slow loris video.’  On 16th February, the Fake and Gay Channel, although they would not remove to cruel and disturbing slow loris umbrella video, added an education message to the video urging the public NOT TO KEEP THE LORISES AS PETS.  This is 100% the result of YOUR COMMENTS on these videos, imploring the individuals who uploaded videos of illegally imported and bred lorises, showing them in appropriate conditions.  Most of the videos are of the pygmy loris.  The pygmys in the photo below were confiscated after they had left their country of origin, destined for the international pet trade.  THIS MUST STOP.

What can you do now?

  • Please continue to visit the loris video sites EVERY DAY
  • Leave helpful, not angry or rude comments, informing the uploaders of the cruelty of these videos.
  • Visit our Little Fireface Project on Facebook to find out which videos we are targeting.
  • Feel free to quote Dr Anna Nekaris and use any of the following quotes, direct readers to the Little Fireface Project, and link to the Jungle Gremlins of Java video on YouTube.
  • “All slow lorises are threatened in the wild.  Trade for the traditional medicines and for pet is their greatest immediate threat.  In the case of pets, very many slow lorises have their teeth removed inhumanely with wire cutters, nail clippers or pliers, am often fatal process.  This does NOT succeed in making the loris non-venomous.”
  • “Slow lorises are EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO BREED in captivity.  The world captive population of slow lorises bred inb zoos world-wide is 109 for N. coucang, N. menegensis, N. begalensis, and N. javanicus combined and 201 for the N. pygmaeus.  If we look at the pet lorises on YouTube, we already find more than this number for N. pygmaeus alone!  It is therefore nearly Impossible that these animals are captive bred.  If the best zoos in the world, with expert care cannot breed and keep these animals, that have extremely specialised social and dietary needs, it is highly unlikely that there are loris ‘nurseries’ that can do this.”
  • “Slow lorises are nocturnal animals that live in complex social groups.  They eat mainly insects, gum and nectar.  They must have a continual grip on a complex network of branches to be stress-free, as this is their main anti-predator strategy.  Being on a flat substrate (bed, sofa) in the bright light being fed high amounts of fruit and being kept alone are all husbandry practices detrimental to their health and well-being.

The Campaign Begins!

Posted on 09/02/2012

Last night Dr Nekaris gave an amazing talk on loris folklore at Klub Gutenberg in London.  With stories and poetry, legends and legacies, the slow loris captured everyone’s imagination.

The postcard campaign also got off to a great start with over 100 signatures collected.  Thanks to everyone who came along and showed their support.