Saving Slender Lorises in Sri Lanka
Though the word ‘primate’ brings to mind images of monkeys and apes for most people, several groups of strange and primitive primates exist. The lorises are small nocturnal animals that inhabit the forests of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia, and feed primarily on insects. Many loris species are in dire straits, and ZSL is working hard to protect the remaining populations.
Western red slender loris ©D Vidanapathirana The Red Slender loris is on the brink of extinction and is a focal point of ZSL’s work in Sri Lanka. There are two subspecies, and the habitats of both are rapidly being lost and fragmented due to agricultural development and firewood collection. The Western red slender loris (Loris tardigradus tardigradus) inhabits wet lowland habitats and only about 1500 individuals remain. The montane or Horton Plains slender loris (L. t. nycticeboides) is in an even worse state, and was thought extinct since its last sighting in 1937. In 2009, however, ZSL EDGE fellows were lucky enough to sight these animals on a field trip in the humid montane forests of the Horton Plains, and only about 80 montane slender lorises are estimated to exist.
ZSL conservation action
Since 2008, ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme has been engaged in a collaborative project with Open University of Sri Lanka and the University of Colombo wildlife experts, to bring conservation focus to this sub-species and its remaining habitat. Over 1000 surveys were carried out to assess the distribution of lorises across a quarter of Sri Lanka’s area. This resulted in the first detailed review of the status of the Western slender loris, giving a clearer picture of what habitat they like and how many can be found there. This information has been vital to creating an effective conservation plan to save these animals.
A rare photograph of the Montane slender loris ©C Mahanayakage In June 2011, EDGE launched a reforestation campaign in the central highlands of Sri Lanka in an effort to protect both the Western and Horton’s Plains slender lorises. The ZSL is working with local authorities and communities to plant 100 hectares of scrubland with native seedlings, creating vital ecological corridors between forest patches.
These corridors will hopefully allow lorises to move between the remaining forest patches more easily and protect the surviving populations from rapidly declining. These corridors will also benefit other threatened species such as leopards and the Sri Lankan spiny mouse. Our team is also setting up educational programmes across South-Western Sri Lanka to involve local communities in preserving the fantastic creatures of their country's last remaining wild places.