Sunda slow loris

by Chew, Valerie


The Sunda Slow Loris (scientific name: Nycticebus coucang) is a small monkey-like primate found in Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. It is one of several species of slow lorises, all of which occur in Asia. Slow lorises are among the few mammals in the world known to have a poisonous bite. They used to be common in Singapore and were often captured as pets. But their population has declined significantly and they are classified as "critically endangered" in The Singapore Red Data Book (2008), which lists the threatened plants and animals in the country.

The Sunda Slow Loris is a small creature, ranging between 20cm and 38cm in length and weighing up to 2kg. It has a round head with a very short muzzle, small ears and large forward-facing eyes. It has strong grasping hands and feet with opposable thumbs and big toes, allowing it to grip tree branches very tightly. Its body is covered with a dense coat of soft, short fur. Its tail is very short, measuring no more than 3cm. It varies in colour from pale grey-brown to reddish-brown, with a darker brown stripe stretching from the top of the head to the middle back or to the base of the tail. There is usually a thick white stripe between the eyes and a dark ring around each eye.

This shy animal is usually solitary, but sometimes it is seen in pairs or in family units with dependent young. It gives birth to a single offspring, sometimes twins, after a gestation period of more than six months, following which the young will remain with the mother for up to nine months. It has a life span of about 20 years.

An adept climber, it is mostly arboreal and likes tall trees. It is also nocturnal. During the day, it sleeps in the forks of trees or in thick vegetation, curled up in a tight ball with its head between its thighs. It makes a buzzing hiss sound when disturbed. It typically walks in a slow and deliberate manner, with at least three limbs holding on to the tree branch at any given time. However it can move quickly when necessary, such as when catching prey.

The Sunda Slow Loris is omnivorous. Its diet includes insects, lizards, small birds and mammals, bird eggs, fruits, shoots, nectar and tree sap.

Habitat and Distribution
It is native to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, inhabiting forests, gardens and plantations. Within Singapore, it can be found in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves as well as on Pulau Tekong.

As with other endangered wildlife in Singapore, habitat loss is a major threat to the continued survival of the Sunda Slow Loris as urbanisation has taken away large areas of forest here. Another threat is illegal poaching for the exotic pet trade. Their big eyes and cuddly appearance make slow lorises particularly appealing as pets. After they are caught, their sharp teeth are often cut or pulled out to prevent them from biting their owners. However, this frequently results in painful infections that may even lead to death. The Singapore Zoo has taken in many slow lorises that had been confiscated by the authorities from illegal pet traders and owners. If the animal has lost its teeth, it cannot be reintroduced into the wild.

Other species of slow lorises elsewhere are also hunted for use in traditional medicine. For example, in Cambodia, loris wine is used to alleviate pain in childbirth and each bottle is made from mixing rice wine with the bodies of three lorises.

Selling or keeping exotic pets such as slow lorises, gibbons, salamanders, snakes and tarantulas is illegal in Singapore. Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is an offence to kill, take or keep such wild animals without a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). Those found guilty of the offence would be liable to a fine of up to S$1,000 and the forfeiture of the animal. Exceptions include the crows, pigeons and mynas commonly seen in Singapore.

In addition, the slow loris is an internationally protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between governments to ensure that trade in wildlife specimens does not threaten their species with extinction. Specifically, it is listed in Appendix I, which contains the most endangered of all the animals and plants covered by CITES. This means that commercial trade in wild specimens of this species is prohibited.

The Endangered Species Act gives legal effect to CITES in Singapore and is enforced by the AVA through a system of permits for the import and export of wildlife specimens. Under the Act, anyone caught smuggling an endangered species like the slow loris is liable to be prosecuted in court and fined a maximum of S$50,000 for each animal and/or jailed for up to two years.

Offenders Caught
1998 : A man who illegally kept two slow lorises, a crocodile, a python and several other animals in his home was fined S$7,200. He was believed to be an exotic animal trader.
Nov 2004 : AVA caught a man who attempted to sell a slow loris through the Internet. He had offered exotic pets for sale in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) posting and tried to sell the slow loris for S$480.
Dec 2004 : AVA officials raided a home in Ang Mo Kio and retrieved 26 exotic animals which included a slow loris, six star tortoises and two green iguanas.

Variant Names
Scientific name: Nycticebus coucang
Common names:
- English - Sunda Slow Loris, Greater Slow Loris, Slow Loris
- Dutch - Plompe Lori
- French - Loris Lent
- Spanish - Loris Lento
- Swedish - Tröglori

Valerie Chew

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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Slow loris--Singapore
Endangered species--Singapore

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