Scientists in Borneo have identified three new species of slow loris primates, branching a single species known as N. menagensis into four.
Two out of the three have been previously identified in the wild, but their uniform appearance led researchers to label them under the same umbrella species. However, the nocturnal Nycticebus kayan has never been spotted before. The slow loris has the distinction of being the only venomous primate known to humankind. When threatened, the animal licks a toxic gland located on its elbow, churns the poison with its saliva, and then bites its victim. Yet, this deadly little primate has been unable to fend off agents of the pet market.
"Zoos rarely succeed in breeding [lorises]. Nearly all the primates in the pet trade are taken from the wild, breaking the bonds of the lorises' complex and poorly understood social structures. The teeth they use for their venomous bite are then torn out. Many of them die in the squalid conditions of pet markets," says Rachel Munds of the University of Missouri. "Unfortunately, in addition to habitat loss to deforestation, there is a booming black market demand for the animals. They are sold as pets, used as props for tourist photos or dismembered for use in traditional Asian medicines."
Now, all four species will be listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of threatened species.
Oxford Brookes University's Professor Anna Nekaris adds that even "Well-meaning groups rescue lorises and rarely follow proper guidelines when releasing them back to the wild.That means that the wrong species of loris has found itself in many a new place throughout Asia, if they have survived the traumatising practice of hard release to the wild in the first place."
The study was originally published in the American Journal of Primatology.