Home > Issue 15 > Trade in Asian slow lorises (Nycticebus)  


Trade in Asian slow lorises (Nycticebus): using education workshops to counter an increase in illegal trade
Angelina Navarro-Montes, Anna Nekaris and Tricia J. Parish,
Dept. of Anthropology & Geography, Oxford Brookes University, UK

N. coucang N. bengalensis N. pygmaeus N. menagensis
Photos: San Diego Zoo, Ulrike Streicher, K.A.I. Nekaris, K.A.I. Nekaris, Konstans Wells.

Slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.) are vulnerable to deforestation and hunting. Although legally protected, past studies have shown this genus to be in high demand for pets, meat and traditional medicine. Previous research has highlighted the trade in slow lorises; however, huge data gaps remain as the trade is rarely documented to species level. The taxonomy is being revised, with five species currently recognised based on genetic and morphological analysis:1 Nycticebus coucang, N. menagensis, N. pygmaeus, N. javanicus, and N. bengalensis. Recently, the IUCN Red List has classified all Nycticebus species as Endangered or Vulnerable and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has transferred slow lorises to Appendix I. In August 2008, N. javanicus was placed on Conservation International's biennial list of the 25 Most Endangered Primates.2

N. javanicus  
In most Southeast Asian countries, Nycticebus species are in high demand for traditional medicines and as pets.3,4,5 All parts of the slow loris (including hair, brain, urine and skin) are believed useful for various ailments; applying the hair is believed to accelerate healing of wounds; wearing the bones brings luck; extract from the eyes is turned into ‘love potion'; and eating the flesh is thought to cure leprosy, asthma and stomach ailments.6,7,8 Slow lorises are promoted in markets, pet shops and on the Internet. A review of 24 previous surveys (1990–2006) observing wildlife trade (including Nycticebus spp.) within Southeast Asia found nearly 3,000 slow loris individuals reported in 13 survey years (no data are available for 1991, 1992, 1995 or 1998), providing an average of 228 animals per year. Key sources for the trade in slow lorises include Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos.9 Trade hubs include Jakarta, Medan, Singapore and Bangkok, with animals destined for China, Taiwan, Japan, Europe and Saudi Arabia as pets.9,10,11,12,13,8.

The identification problem
  Slow loris species flashcard (Nycticebus pygmaeus). One of a set of 31 showing different photos of the five slow loris species.
A common problem in the enforcement of legislation to protect animals from illegal trade is the inability of enforcement officials to identify species due to inadequate funding and staffing levels. 14,15,13,8,16 Recommendations to address these areas include identification-training initiatives13,15,8,16 and capacity-building work. The Southeast Asian Mammal Databank (SAMD) – a free web-based research tool for Southeast Asian mammals – and CITES call for additional education work to be undertaken on slow lorises. Lorises rescued from the trade are often released into inappropriate areas due to misidentification resulting from the confusion surrounding their taxonomic status.17,13 It can be difficult to identify slow lorises by coat colour or body size alone. For example N. pygmaeus from Vietnam has been found to have a coat that can change seasonally; 18 for many years this led to the mistaken belief of a distinct species (N. intermedius). Lorises held illegally in animal markets are often malnourished and can be considerably underweight19 while some are dyed,20 adding to identification difficulties.

Training-workshops and their evaluation
  Training review sheet for the "introduction to slow lorises" section. Review sheets were completed by participants at the end of each training section.
To support the protection of slow lorises, four one-day awareness-raising training sessions were conducted by Oxford Brookes University for 110 enforcement officials and rescue-centre personnel in three range countries between May and July 2008. Workshops were held at Singapore Zoo, ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre (Singapore), the Thai Forestry Department in Bangkok, Thailand, and in Bogor, Indonesia, at a workshop jointly organised with International Animal Rescue and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Indonesia. Attendees included government personnel, CITES officials, academics, zoo and rescue-centre personnel and representatives from TRAFFIC. Funding for the training was provided by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the International Primatological Society, Columbus Zoo and the International Primate Protection League. Topics were selected to provide officials with an introductory working knowledge of slow lorises, and to improve their ability to identify and care for slow lorises. The workshop used a range of training materials (presentations, ID leaflet, training DVD, flashcards and calendar) and techniques (lecture, small and large group discussions) to optimise learning. The effectiveness of the workshops was assessed using pre- and post-workshop questionnaires, review sheets, video exercises and behavioural observation.

Pre-workshop questionnaire responses supported previous findings that knowledge levels are low amongst enforcement officials and that training is lacking. Some 87% of respondents had difficulties in identifying species but only 32% had undergone prior species identification training. Quantitative analysis of learning during the workshops showed that significant improvements in knowledge levels were achieved across key areas including Nycticebus spp. knowledge, individual slow loris species identification ability and legislative knowledge. This research indicates that the learning deficit can be addressed and that one-day workshops can effect significant knowledge change.

Screengrab from training DVD on identification of slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus).  

Educational theory suggests giving consideration to specific issues when designing training for adults. These include using a range of training and assessment methods to address different learning preferences21 as well as rewarding improvement;22 including a practical component to reinforce learning;23,24 and allowing participants to discuss previous experiences.25,23 The project followed these recommendations and did find evidence of different learning preferences among the participants: each training and assessment method was rated as the most-preferred method by some participants but least-preferred by others. Lectures and presentations were chosen by most participants as their most-preferred methods, while a big group discussion was among the least popular methods. Based on this analysis, future workshops will continue to use a range of materials and teaching techniques.

Previous studies have found that the knowledge acquired in short-term training is likely to fade over time 26 so that additional refresher workshops may be needed. Even if the detailed knowledge fades, however, participant awareness of Nycticebus, its protected status and some of the identification techniques has been raised. The workshops were met with an enthusiastic response from participants, and indicated a real appetite for identification training among enforcement and rescue centre personnel. Additional workshops are planned elsewhere in the region for 2009. Although this training workshop was designed for slow lorises, the education model is also applicable to other species.

Other conservation needs
Although adequate knowledge on species identification, general species awareness and legislative position of slow lorises is essential, this is just one part of the jigsaw. 27 No matter how much data is collected via trade surveys, there remains a fundamental gap in wild population data for slow loris species;28 for example, during the past decade Nycticebus pygmaeus has been recorded mostly from animals in trade rather than in its habitat.20 Usually the most abundant primate in market surveys across Southeast Asia, the genus Nycticebus has been seriously impacted by human activities. Nycticebus javanicus and N. pygmaeus are already showing dramatic reduction of numbers in market surveys, indicators that slow loris populations are not withstanding such large-scale off-take.20 Once considered a common mammal of Southeast Asia, slow lorises are facing a catastrophic population decline caused by over-exploitation and habitat loss. Without immediate action, the future of this genus appears bleak.

All photos are credited to Tricia J. Parish, unless otherwise stated.

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