First Ever Pictures of Mysterious Mammal

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One of the rarest and most threatened primates in the world, so mysterious it was once thought to be extinct, has been has been caught on camera for the first time.

ZSL Living Conservation

The discovery improves our knowledge of this species, but we need to focus our efforts on the conservation and restoration of the remaining montane forest where this species still exists. Currently this accounts for less than one per-cent of the land area of Sri Lanka.

The pictures of the Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) were taken in the montane forests of central Sri Lanka by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Sri Lankan researchers.

Until now this subspecies of slender loris has only been seen four times since 1937 and disappeared from 1939 to 2002, leading experts to believe it had become extinct.

Conservation Biologists from ZSL’s Edge of Existence Programme surveyed 2km transects for more than 200 hours, looking for signs of this elusive wide-eyed primate.

The pictures of the nocturnal creature, which is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, show an eight inch long (head and body length) adult male slender loris sitting on a forest branch. It is characterised by his short limbs and long, dense fur.

Conservationists have discovered that both the fore and hind limbs of the Horton Plains slender loris appear shorter and sturdier than the limbs of any of the other loris found in either Sri Lanka or southern India showing how the mammal has adapted to live in the cool montane forest.

ZSL Conservation Biologist Dr. Craig Turner said: “We are thrilled to have captured the first ever photographs and prove its continued existence – especially after its 65 year disappearing act. This is the first time we have been able to conduct such a close examination of the Horton Plains slender loris.

“The discovery improves our knowledge of this species, but we need to focus our efforts on the conservation and restoration of the remaining montane forest where this species still exists. Currently this accounts for less than one per-cent of the land area of Sri Lanka.”

Research Leader Saman Gamage added: “This discovery is a great reward for the ongoing field research we undertake across much of south-western Sri Lanka.

“Nearly 1,000 nocturnal surveys have been completed in 120 different forest areas looking for all loris species to assess their status, ecological needs and current threats. We are now conducting further studies to establish whether the Horton Plains slender loris could even be a species in its own right.”

Editorial Notes

  • Slender lorises are small, nocturnal prosimian primates found only in the tropical forests of Southern India and Sri Lanka. They live in wet and dry forests, as well as lowland and highland forests. They have long pencil-thin arms and legs and are between 6-10 in (15-25cm) long. Slender loris', which weigh about 10.5-12 oz. (140-348g), have round heads which are dominated by two large, closely set, saucer-like brown eyes necessary to give them excellent depth perception during their nocturnal hunting. Their coat is light red-brown or grey-brown on its back and dirty white on its chest and belly. Their thumb helps them grasp branches and twigs.
  • The Red Slender Loris EDGE conservation programme run by ZSL in collaboration with the University of Colombo and Open University of Sri Lanka, has been underway since 2008. It is assessing the range, distribution and status of loris species across south-western Sri Lanka in order to inform the development of appropriate conservation strategies. A major threat posed the Horton Plains slender loris is habitat fragmentation and degradation. Effective means to protect, regenerate and reconnect the remaining montane forest patches need to be implemented as a priority.
  • ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme ranks species according to their evolutionary distinctiveness and how globally endangered they are. There is currently an EDGE amphibians and EDGE mammals list. EGDE supports in-country conservationists through the EDGE Fellowship scheme.
  • Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation overseas. For further information please visit: http://www.zsl.org

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Lynsey Ford