20 July 2010

Rare primate photographed in a world first

Agence France-Presse
A "cute" primate so rare it was thought to be extinct has been caught on camera in the forests of Sri Lanka for the first time, according to scientists.
Horton Plains slender loris

The Horton Plains slender loris was photographed in central Sri Lanka for the first time. Credit: London Zoo

LONDON: A “cute” primate so rare it was thought to be extinct has been caught on camera in the forests of Sri Lanka for the first time, scientists said Monday.

The Horton Plains slender loris is a small, nocturnal animal which can grow up to 17 centimetres (six inches) long with big, bulging eyes. Endemic to Sri Lanka, it was first discovered in 1937 but had only been seen four time since then.

Scientists last caught a glimpse of the primate in 2002, and believed the elusive animal had since died out.

Rare opportunity for a physical examination

But field researchers, working with the Zoological Society of London, managed to track down the mysterious creature in the forests of central Sri Lanka.

In a world first, they were able to take pictures of an adult male slender loris sitting on a tree branch.

The field team was able to capture one of the creatures and give it a physical examination, the first time that has ever been done, before releasing it back into the wild.

Tea plantations the biggest threat

But experts warned that deforestation in Sri Lanka – largely blamed on the drive to create tea plantations in the region – was now the biggest threat to the loris.

Craig Turner, a conservation biologist at the ZSL, said their natural forest habitat had been divided up for farming and logging use, cutting off the “very cute” animals from their partners.

“The forest has now been fragmented into a series of small islands,” said Turner. “They can’t move to one another, they can’t mate, breed, so it has real implications for the future persistence of the species.”

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