Pygmy loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus)

Also known as: lesser slow loris, pygmy slow loris
GenusNycticebus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 18 – 21 cm (2)
Weightup to 800 g (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

This nocturnal, tree-dwelling Asian primate has short, thick, woolly hair that is light brownish-grey to deep reddish-brown in colour. The individual hairs often have silvery tips giving a ‘frosted’ appearance and a darker stripe runs along the spine. The underparts are lighter in colour, being almost white or greyish (2) (3). The large eyes of the pygmy loris, which provide good vision at night (5), are encircled with dark rings and separated by a streak of light fur (2). Like other lorises, each digit on the hands and feet bears a nail, except for the second digit on each foot which instead has what is known as a ‘toilet’ claw, used for grooming (5). Unlike many other primates, lorises do not possess a tail to assist with moving through their forest habitat, but instead a special arrangement of muscles in the hands and feet enable an effortless and powerful grasp, allowing the pygmy loris to grip tightly to a branch at lofty heights all day (2) (5).

The pygmy loris occurs in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Yunnan Province of China (2).

This tree-dwelling primate inhabits primary and secondary forests (2) (3).

By day, lorises are known to sleep curled up in the fork of a tree (2), but during the night, these animals can be seen moving slowly and deliberately through the trees on all fours (2) (5). They walk and climb along tree limbs, and stretch between terminal branches to cross to a neighbouring tree (5). Pygmy lorises feed on insects, seizing flying insects in their hands whilst they grip a branch with both hindfeet (2). This protein-rich food is supplemented with fruit, as well as gum from trees (3). To digest these gums, lorises possess unusually large cecums, a bag joining the large intestine that houses bacteria which enables these sugary gums to be broken down (5). It is thought that this ability to feed on gum helps pygmy lorises survive times when there is a shortage of other food sources (3).

The pygmy loris gives birth to just a single young each year, after a gestation period of 184 to 200 days. The young are weaned at the age of 123 to 146 days (3), but generally stay within their mother’s territory until they are sexually mature and establish a range of their own (5). The life span of the pygmy loris is believed to be about 20 years (3).

Although, due to unstable political situations throughout its range, data on the pygmy loris are scarce (3), it is likely that it is threatened by the severe habitat degradation that is occurring in certain areas (3). For example, in Yunnan, China, forest cover has been reduced by 42 percent since the mid-1990s, while in Vietnam, only 30 percent of the original forest cover is left. The threat of habitat loss (the result of logging, military activities and defoliant spraying), is compounded by the impact of hunting. The pygmy loris is hunted for food, the pet trade, and is used in traditional medicines of the Khmer people (the predominant ethnic group in Cambodia). A dramatic increase in trade in recent years has been attributed to human population growth and improving economic situations in the countries in which this vulnerable primate occurs (3).

Hunting and capture of the pygmy loris is illegal in Cambodia, China and Vietnam, although unfortunately, enforcement of these laws is lacking, and the penalties for those breaking the law are too low to deter others (3). Internationally, the pygmy loris receives some protection from the devastating effects of trade by being listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits any international commercial trade in this species (4). In addition, the pygmy loris occurs in a number of national parks and nature reserves throughout its range (3), which should hopefully protect some populations from the threat of habitat loss.

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2014)