4 species of Borneo slow loris now recognised

4 species of Borneo slow loris now recognised

Kayan slow loris

The latest species of slow loris – the Kayan ( photo credit: Ch’ien Lee )

A new paper by an international team has led to a new species of slow loris being named and two species that were previously thought as sub species being promoted to species in their own rights. There are now 4 species of slow loris found in Borneo and the Philippines with experts predicting that more species may be discovered in the future.

The latest species that was discovered has been named Nycticebus kayan after the river which flows through the species habitat in the central-northest highlands of Borneo. “[pullquote]This finding will assist in conservation efforts for these enigmatic primates, although survey work in Borneo suggests the new species are either very difficult to locate or that their numbers may be quite small.“[/pullquote]

The study that led to the new species being identified was published in the American Journal of Primatology,

Technological advances have improved our knowledge about the diversity of several nocturnal mammals,” said Rachel Munds from the University of Missouri Columbia. “Historically many species went unrecognized as they were falsely lumped together as one species. While the number of recognized primate species has doubled in the past 25 years some nocturnal species remain hidden to science.”

In order to identify different species the researchers concentrated on the facial markings and the shapes of the caps on the heads of the primates. The different patterns and colourings helped to differentiate between species.

The four species now known to live on the islands of Borneo and the Philippines are:  N menagensis, N. bancanus, N. borneanus and N. kayan.

In the first study to quantify facial mask differences we have recognized three new species of slow loris, two of which were recognized as subspecies at some point in the past, but are now elevated to species status, and one previously unrecognized group.” concluded Ms Munds. “This finding will assist in conservation efforts for these enigmatic primates, although survey work in Borneo suggests the new species are either very difficult to locate or that their numbers may be quite small.

The recognition of new species can have practical implications for conservation of the species. On of those is where to reintroduce rescued slow lorises. The primates are very popular as pets in the region. While many of those rescued are not able to be released back in the wild because traders will pull out the teeth of the animals to combat the toxic bite, some can be released. Recognising the different species could result in the animals being released in a more suitable area.

The pet trade is a serious threat for slow lorises in Indonesia, and recognition of these new species raises issues regarding where to release confiscated Bornean slow lorises, as recognition by non-experts can be difficult,” said co-author Professor Nekaris, from Oxford Brookes University.