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Slender hope: A tiny primate is rediscovered after 65 years

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Horton Plains slender lorisAfter a 65-year disappearance, the mysterious Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) has been photographed for the first time, reports the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The tiny primate appeared to have gone extinct in 1939 after its Sri Lankan forest habitats were clear-cut to create tea plantations. A chance encounter in 2002 led to a massive expedition to find the animal, and after nearly 1,000 nocturnal surveys in 120 forest areas researchers have discovered that the loris was, indeed, still among the living. Not only did the team manage to photograph the animal (a loris subspecies) for the first time, they caught three of them long enough to measure them. (They’re just 20 centimeters long, by the way.)

Anyway, that’s the good news. The bad news is that the Horton Plains slender loris is still pretty darn rare. Researchers fear there may only be 100 or so of these animals left, which would make it one of the five most endangered primate species. They also say the number could be as low as 60—which would, indeed, make it the world’s rarest primate.

This rediscovery “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,” ZSL conservation biologist Craig Turner said in a prepared statement. “Currently, this accounts for less than 1 percent of the land area of Sri Lanka.”

The team’s work in Sri Lanka isn’t done. They are studying all loris species in Sri Lanka to determine their needs as well as the threats they face.

Photo: © C. Mahanayakage, courtesy the Zoological Society of London





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  1. 1. frgough 7:22 pm 07/19/2010

    Yet another example of biologists being wrong about an animal being extinct.

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  2. 2. live.the.future 8:00 pm 07/19/2010

    I visited Horton Plains in 2008. Didn’t see any lorises, but it was very beautiful country and perhaps the best hike I’ve ever done. I highly recommend it for any reasonably-fit person visiting Sri Lanka.

    This article gave an estimate for 60-100 of the creatures possibly still alive. I’m not a geneticist, but I thought you generally needed a population of several hundred or a couple thousand to maintain genetic diversity. Wouldn’t such low numbers suggest that this is a moribund species, and that extinction is only a matter of time? Again, I’m no expert so I’m open to correction. Perhaps we should be taking genetic samples of this species?

    To frgough: what, exactly, is the purpose of your anti-science post? Are you trying to raise doubts about the expertise of biologists? (Or perhaps, by extension, evolution?) Or do you simply have a grudge against them because a biologist once beat you up in school?

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  3. 3. robert schmidt 8:20 pm 07/19/2010

    @frgough, Is it too much of a stretch for you to imagine that finding a small number of small animals in a large area that is virtually inaccessible would be very difficult? There is no way for science to know when the official date of extinction is. But this would be no surprise to anyone with even a basic understanding of field work. The only stupidity that you draw people’s attention to with your inane comments is your own.

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  4. 4. JAndrews 10:40 pm 07/19/2010

    Don’t feed the trolls…

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  5. 5. JamesDavis 10:40 pm 07/19/2010

    I’m still waiting for them to find a couple of Dodo bird eggs. I refuse to believe that we humans are so stupid that we would allow a beautiful bird like that to go extinct.

    I am really glad that little animal is still with us. Since I am an avid "tree huger", this gives me more bullets to throw at those anti-environmentalists.

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  6. 6. E-boy 11:17 pm 07/19/2010

    @frgough,

    All the regular hangouts not responding to your trolling anymore? Scientists, contrary to what you seem to think, often quite enjoy being wrong because they’ve learned something. In fact, the whole tool kit of science is predicated on falsifiability. Show me other ways of evaluating the environment and our place in it that create space programs, vaccines, cars ect… Oh you can’t, because there aren’t any. Scientists are often wrong, they learn from it, they move on and in the process we get things like 747′s, new medicines, and occasionally a second chance at saving a species we thought was gone.

    You seem to suggest that it was silly of them to worry the animal had gone extinct. I suggest you pay a visit to Yellow Stone and look at the information laid out about how the park was before the reintroduction of wolves and how it is now. That might make it a bit more clear to you just how important one species can be to an ecology. Also, in case you weren’t aware of this we can’t make working artificial ecologies yet. Each of our attempts to date have failed. SOOOO, we need the ecology we do exist in (IE our biosphere here on planet earth) to be as healthy and productive as possible because we depend on the ecological services of other animals for our very existence. If you don’t believe that ask farmers about the 70 billion dollars of free labor we get from insects in this country alone every year. Without them? Well, at the moment we can’t easily or entirely replace what they do for us. So we’d be up a creek. So, yes other critters matter, and yes scientists are often wrong (unlike other ways of doing business though those wrong answers broaden our information base. Falsifying a theory is every bit as important to scientific progress as the failure to do so is).

    I get very irritated when people insist on treating science as a belief system when it’s just a tool kit for an evidence based approach to figuring out how various things work. It’s like comparing a screw driver to Catholocism for pete’s sake.

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  7. 7. Ekanayake 1:23 pm 07/20/2010

    I am very happy to here that the extinction primate has found
    in Sri Lanka.As a Srilankan I would like to request from officials to protect this tiny primated for the future.

    U.G.Ekanayake Kadugannawa Sri Lanka

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  8. 8. Capybara 1:39 pm 07/20/2010

    @frgough What in the article or elsewhere makes you think any biologist was wrong? I see no statement by anyone, at any time, that stated that the slender loris was extinct; the article implies merely that it appeared that it might be, or was feared to be.

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  9. 9. hotblack 1:43 pm 07/20/2010

    "I get very irritated when people insist on treating science as a belief system when it’s just a tool kit for an evidence based approach to figuring out how various things work."

    When all a person knows is belief systems, everything they see looks like one. The only possible way to save them is to shoot them. …silver bullet. Through the heart.

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  10. 10. Oberon 6:24 pm 07/20/2010

    Where did they find it? The Street of the Lifted Loris? :) (Apologies to Dr. Seuss)

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  11. 11. frgough 8:19 pm 07/20/2010

    I guess that explains why they were wrong about the blue whale, too.

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  12. 12. frgough 8:21 pm 07/20/2010

    "Scientists, contrary to what you seem to think, often quite enjoy being wrong because they’ve learned something."

    Too bad, those are more endangered than the primate. Of course, almost extinct is better than extinct. With almost extinct you get money and power to save the poor little critters. With extinct, all you get is lecture time on the evils of capitalism.

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  13. 13. noretreat 8:55 pm 07/20/2010

    Diversity! This is a beautiful find. They are irreplaceable treasures.

    Link to this

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