Love potions threaten survival of lorises

Lorises–small, nocturnal primates found throughout Asia–are threatened by wildlife trade at levels that may be detrimental to their survival, according to researchers from Malaysia, Australia and the UK.

A study, recently published in the American Journal of Primatology, examined the trade in slow and slender lorises in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Indonesia and found clear cultural differences between countries in the way the animals are viewed, says a media release from TRAFFIC, the joint wildlife trade monitoring program of IUCN and WWF.

“Surrounded by superstition, it is believed in South and Southeast Asia that eating loris flesh can treat leprosy, tonics made from lorises are claimed to heal wounds and broken bones and help women regain strength after childbirth, while in Sri Lanka slender loris body parts may ward off the ‘evil eye’ and can be used to curse enemies.

“Finally, their tears are a secret ingredient in love potions. Every year thousands of lorises are caught to supply such uses,” TRAFFIC said.


A Bengal loris streteched and dried for sale. Lorises are often sold in this way for traditional medicinal uses in Cambodia and Laos.

Photo © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

The animals are also in demand from the pet trade, especially in Indonesia, despite the animals possessing a toxic bite. “In humans a slow loris bite can lead to anaphylactic shock and even death. As a result, in trade slow lorises often have their teeth removed,” TRAFFIC explained.

“The tendency to freeze when spotted by humans makes lorises particularly vulnerable to collectors. Our study shows that people catch lorises any time they see them, usually while out looking for other animals. This makes the problem of the loris trade a difficult one to tackle,” said Anna Nekaris of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group at Oxford Brookes University, and lead author of the study.

The trade is also illegal: Lorises are protected by national laws in every country where they occur naturally and international in slow lorises is banned through their listing in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The study found that lorises are traded openly in large numbers at animal markets, especially in Indonesia and Cambodia.

“The open trade in these animals highlights a serious lack in enforcement–laws are ignored by wildlife traders who are obviously not afraid of legal repercussions,” said Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, an author of the study.

“This exemplifies the lack of seriousness in dealing with wildlife crimes, which is leading to many species becoming increasingly rare.”

Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group and an author of the paper stressed the importance of continued monitoring of legal and illegal wildlife trade and proper analysis of these data.

“It is very easy for this kind of trade to slip under the radar, despite perhaps thousands of lorises being traded annually. Irregularities in trade, as observed in our studies, indicate that the authorities should be more vigilant and stress the need for improved monitoring and intervention.”

The authors proposed that local knowledge and beliefs about lorises should be used when framing conservation policies to protect these, and other threatened wildlife species in Asia.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Shirley McGreal

    Thanks to Chris Shepherd, Vincent Nijman, and Anna Nekaris for drawing attention to the plight of the lorises. Plus for their successful efforts to get some loris species upgraded from Appendix II to I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. When living in Bangkok, I saw market dealers removing loris teeth with pliars and chisels – and no anesthesia. Pro Fauna and others have campaigned in Indonesia to end trade on the local animal markets. In April 2007 Pro Fauna held a creative and well-publicized demonstration at Malang Market with wonderful signs such as “Stop jual kukang” (stop slow loris trade) and “Jangan beli kukang” (don’t buy a slow loris). They posted a huge banner at the market and once observed a dealer selling lorises close by the banner. I hope that other grassroots groups in loris homelands will take up the cause of these beautiful animals of the night. Shirley McGreal, OBE, Chairwoman International Primate Protection League

  • Jose Louies

    During one of our field investigations on wildlife trade in Southern India, we came across with a tribe using Slow loris for street performance. They hunt Loris in the forests of Tamilnadu and Karnataka and use these animals for performance & also sell them to the traditional medicine makers ( road side quacks). The body parts are also used for some local versions of black magic.
    We are trying to learn more about the trade and what is the damage caused by these community to the wild population.

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