January 23, 2013

Tickled to Death – The Rapid Demise of the Slow Loris

Few are stranger to the “cute animal video” phenomenon that has swept the internet (don’t lie—we all know you’ve watched Henri the existential cat ponder the true meaning of Christmas). In fact, some of you have probably seen the viral videos of an adorable, saucer-eyed primate being tickled or holding a tiny cocktail umbrella. This umbrella-toting tickle-fiend is called the slow loris, from the genus Nycticebus. Slow lorises are nocturnal, venomous primates indigenous to the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. They can have an adult weight of up to four pounds, and a lifespan of up to twenty years. Unfortunately, the slow loris rarely survives long enough to see old age due to habitat loss and, to a much greater extent, the illegal pet trade.

Photo taken by Dr. Karmele Llano Sánchez of the International Animal Rescue

In 2007, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed slow lorises under Appendix 1, the strictest level of protection provided, which prohibits international commercial trade of slow lorises. Additionally, in 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed all five species of slow loris as either vulnerable or endangered “due to severe and persistent persecution for the pet trade.” But despite the laws prohibiting the slow loris trade, enforcement of these laws is lacking, and thousands of slow lorises are still poached from the wild and illegally sold for the exotic pet trade, for use in traditional medicine, and as bushmeat (meat from endangered animals).

Standard practices involve stealing infant slow lorises from their mothers (often resulting in the death of their mothers), transporting them in poorly ventilated, cramped wire cages that cut their sensitive hands and feet, and cutting or pulling off their teeth with nail clippers—a procedure done without anesthetic, to make them “better” pets. It is not surprising that 76% of captured slow lorises die from stress, poor nutrition or infection while in transit to pet shops in Japan and Europe, or to be sold on the streets of Indonesia. But not all slow lorises are sold as pets. Many are dismembered for use in traditional medicine as love potions, cures for leprosy, or to ward off evil spirits (note: they don’t work).

In 2013, three new species of slow loris were distinguished. Two species—N. bancanus and N. borneanus—had previously been thought to be subspecies of the Bornean slow loris, and a new species—N. kayan—was discovered. Prior to this split, Bornean slow lorises were considered “low risk” because they seemed to be somewhat common due to their broad geographical distribution. However, with the new knowledge that Bornean slow lorises are actually comprised of four separate species, they are now known to be at a higher risk of extinction than originally presumed. Furthermore, accurately identifying distinct species of slow loris is critical to conservation efforts because it is essential for rescue centers and confiscation authorities to release them to appropriate locations.

The proper understanding of slow loris speciation is just one way scientific research is key to conservation efforts and developing effective policy. The first meeting of the Plenary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is now underway in Bonn, Germany.  Although the purpose of this meeting is primarily to agree on rules of procedure for the platform, it is a significant step toward bridging the gap between science and policy to preserve biodiversity in terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems. Along with improved scientific understanding and increased public awareness, 2013 could bring some positive changes for our cute, nocturnal friends and other animals harmed by the illegal wildlife trade.

Written for SIEL by:
Jia Feng, 1L

January 17, 2013

2013: Will a New Year Bring a Stronger Battle Against Wildlife Trafficking?

Did you know that the illegal wildlife trade falls into the top 5 most lucrative illegal markets in the world?  Some experts say that the illegal wildlife trade stands in the top 3, with guns and drugs taking the top lucrative spots.  The trade in wildlife and parts such as ivory, rhino horn, and tiger bones funnels tens of billions of dollars annually into the hands of criminal syndicates.  With the poachers so well funded, it became a struggle in recent years for nations to fight the slaughter happening daily on their territory.

But the tide may be changing.  In the second half of 2012, the New York Times reported on the ties between Kony, a rebel militia leader in Central Africa, and elephant poaching.  Evidence showed that he began using ivory to buy weapons for his army.  Soon after, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime finally recognized environmental crime, such as wildlife trafficking, as a form of transnational organized crime. This recognition may help spur valuable partnerships with national governments and Interpol, Crime Commissions, etc.  Wildlife trafficking has been rooted in international crime syndicates for years, but finally international bodies recognized this connection. 

Another exciting proclamation and recognition of the epidemic came from the US Department of State.  Wildlife trafficking caught the attention of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  She gave a speech to wildlife conservations and leaders declaring the urgent need for enhanced global partnerships and financial resources large enough to fight the vast resources the criminals use to poach.  

Finally top officials and international bodies took notice of the staggering threat to wildlife worldwide.  But unfortunately 2012 saw the worst poaching numbers yet for elephants and rhinos (668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone).  Will 2013 be the year of change in this fight?  We can only hope that this new momentum will be enough to win the war.

Written for SIEL by:
Mandy Rude, 3L