Animals in Therapy | Deep Dive

I am NOT your pet!

There’s something to be said for an unhurried life. It’s how slow lorises exist in the wild. These small, silky primates with their moon-shaped eyes glide from tree branch to branch as if in slow motion. Absorbing the sounds and scents of the rainforest at night as they forage for nectar, insects, small mammals, and gum. 

Before being dazzled by lights and netted. Their teeth yanked out with whatever’s at hand. Because their endearing slowness and love for forest edges makes lorises easy to catch. They’re also unique among primates in being venomous. And if you’re a trafficker intent on selling one, you don’t want it biting you, or its new owner. Especially if the venom could trigger anaphylactic shock.

Cursed for being cute

Fuelled by social media and celebrity interest, the trade in slow lorises sees many caught and sold as pets or photo props for tourists. But slow lorises don’t make good pets. They don’t enjoy being handled and easily get stressed. They’re nocturnal, so being up all day damages their teardrop-fringed eyes. Many are badly fed, which makes them sick. Without their teeth, they are unable to clean themselves properly. Vast numbers die before even reaching their destinations.

Sadly, the pet trade isn’t their only problem. Native to South and South East Asia, all nine species of slow loris are in decline. They’re losing their habitat as more and more trees are cut down. On top of that they’re hunted for their body parts for traditional medicine. Some, such as Javan and Bengal lorises, are threatened with extinction. 

Appeal of the exotic

Attempts to breed lorises have been largely unsuccessful, so most in captivity are from the wild. Every year, thousands find themselves snatched and sold in wildlife markets or online and smuggled across borders. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones. Other primates, such as lemurs, as well as macaws, owls, snakes, turtles, and millions of fish, are also taken from their natural environments and sold as pets. Their plight, a part of the illegal wildlife trade that’s thought to be worth $20 billion a year. 

Roughly one in five of known terrestrial vertebrates – almost 6,000 out of 31,500 species – are bought and sold across the world. Many find themselves living in basements and back yards. Shockingly, an estimated 15,000 primates live as ‘pets’ in the US – lemurs, capuchins, marmosets, baboons, and chimpanzees as well as lorises. Seeing images and videos of wild animals in these very human environments makes it easy to forget that they’re not domesticated. Or that they’re endangered. They appear so friendly, so in your face!

A turning tide …

But that’s not the end of the story. Awareness of the problems lorises, and thousands of other species, face, is growing. All slow lorises are protected by various laws in their native countries and by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which makes trade in them illegal. 

In 2019, 4,000 live reptiles destined to be sold as pets or for clothing, were rescued from airports and pet stores across Europe and the US. The following year, 25 monkeys illegally taken from the Democratic Republic of Congo, were saved. And in 2021, the UK introduced its Kept Animal bill with the aim of banning trade in primates across the country.

Act now for wildlife

It's a start, but more needs to be done to curtail interest in owning wild animals as pets. If you feel strongly about the illegal wildlife trade, please repost this video or infographic. You can learn more by signing up to our newsletter and checking out organizations that we think are doing a great job: 

  • Click here to sign up to our On the Edge newsletter. Once a month we’ll send you remarkable stories about endangered species and the natural world.  

  • Green Hill is a grassroots conservation project based in North Sumatra, Indonesia, funded by its own sustainable tourism program. People wishing to catch sight of orangutans and other primates can do so on treks, day trips and as conservation volunteers in the animals’ natural habitat. The money raised helps fund local facilities and education opportunities.

  • TRAFFIC works through collaboration to reduce the illegal trade in wildlife across the trade chain. Partners include IUCN, governments, private sector companies and enforcement agencies. 

  • Little Fire Face Project is a research group supporting the conservation of lorises. Free downloadable resources are available on its website for anyone wishing to learn more about them.