Research highlights Japan’s role in illegal trade in threatened slow lorises

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Javan Slow Loris in the wild

Researchers from Oxford Brookes University and the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society have published two major studies this week documenting Japan’s role in the illegal pet trade of slow lorises.

The studies provide a strong scientific basis that the typical way in which the animals are kept as pets, violates international standards of animal welfare, constituting animal cruelty. The studies will appear online in the wake of a new major documentary regarding slow loris ecology and conservation which will be aired on NHK, Japan’s largest national broadcasting organisation, this month. 

Slow lorises are cute but venomous nocturnal primates found from India to the Philippines; the nine currently recognised species are all threatened with extinction largely due to illegal trade. 

These videos are a double-edged sword, bringing awareness of the plight of the slow loris to potentially millions of viewers, but at the same time, fuelling an illegal international pet trade.

Professor Anna Nekaris, Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University

Slow lorises as pets first came to the general public’s attention in 2009 when a video of a slow loris being ticked went viral. More than 100 videos of pet slow lorises are now available on social networking sites at any one time. Arguably, the most popular slow loris individual is Kinako, a Hiller’s slow loris from Sumatra. The Slow Loris Channel featuring this animal gained popularity in September 2012 when a video entitled slow loris eating a riceball went viral. As of 21 January 2016, the channel had 44,547 subscribers and 18,454,348 views. All slow lorises are protected by national laws in their range countries, making catching and selling them illegal. 

Professor Anna Nekaris, Director of the Little Fireface Project and Professor of Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, said: “These videos are a double-edged sword, bringing awareness of the plight of the slow loris to potentially millions of viewers, but at the same time, fuelling an illegal international pet trade.”

The first of the two studies, entitled Crossing International Borders: the trade of slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.)  as pets in Japan was published in the Asian Primates Journal. During a two-month investigation, the authors found 114 slow lorises in 93 Japanese online videos and discovered 74 slow lorises for sale in 20 Japanese pet shops, both in-store and online. Six threatened species, including the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris, were for sale for between 3,290 USD and 8,650 USD. 

Analysis of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) trade data revealed Japan to be the most significant importer of slow lorises; a total of 633 individuals were imported for commercial purposes between 1985 and 2013 with the last of these imports in 1999. In terms of the magnitude of illegal trade, confiscation data from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) revealed that 400 slow lorises were confiscated entering Japan between 2000 and 2013.

Kirie Suzuki, Secretary General of the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, and co-author of study said: “The international community is working in cooperation to curtail illegal trade of wildlife; Japan should fulfil its responsibilities.”

Captured Javan Slow Loris

The second study entitled Is Tickling Torture? Assessing welfare towards slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.) within web videos appears in the journal Folia Primatologica. Nekaris and colleagues examined 100 online videos, a third of which were uploaded from Japan, to investigate whether or not the ‘five freedoms’ of animal welfare were violated in the videos. 

The researchers found that every video violated at least one freedom, and all five negative conditions were present in nearly a third of the analysed videos. This included the famous ‘riceball’ video, where the slow loris was fed a poor diet, showed signs of ill health indicated by obesity, was kept in bright light, showed signs of stress and was kept in extremely unnatural conditions. Furthermore, the public was more likely to give a ‘thumbs up’ to videos that showed stressed lorises kept in bright light. 

Anyone interested in protecting the slow loris can donate to the Little Fireface Project via the Oxford Brookes fundraising pages.

Your donations will provide support a range of activities to keep the slow loris in the wild, including:

• support for conservation education activities in slow loris habitats
• important funds for field work and further research
• help to support scholarships for students to be able to study for Masters and PhD degrees to carry out these important studies.

More information about the slow loris and Oxford Brookes’ conservation work can be found on the Oxford Brookes website and The Little Fireface Project website.