Down To Earth spoke to Honnavalli N Kumara about the importance of conservation of the species and the existing threats to its population
They are even killed in some parts of the state since people consider them a bad omen: Photo: iStock
Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to notify a slender loris sanctuary in the country. This sanctuary, spread over 11,806 hectares in the Karur and Dindigul districts of the state, will play an important role in the conservation of the primate.
Slender loris is found largely in the plains. This species falls under the ‘Endangered’ category in the IUCN Red List and is listed under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
Down To Earth spoke to Honnavalli N Kumara, principal scientist of conservation biology at Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in Tamil Nadu, about the importance of conservation of the species and the existing threats to its population.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Shuchita Jha: How important was it to create a sanctuary for the primate?
Honnavalli N Kumara: There is a huge chunk of their population outside protected areas where they face threats like habitat destruction due developmental activities, anthropogenic pressure and other threats like illegal capture and killing. So, declaring a protected area for their conservation is a big step in this regard. A large proportion of the slender loris habitat is already lost.
Very few pockets of their habitat are left. If you look at the density of the loris population in these pockets, it is very high, sometimes as high as 200 individuals per square kilometre. From that point of view, the Tamil Nadu government has taken a significant step.
The slender loris is mostly insectivorous. It eats insects from fields and helps farmers protect their crops. So, protecting their population also has major ecological benefits in controlling the population of harmful insects that otherwise create problems for farmers. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that protected areas are dedicated for maintaining the ecological balance.
SJ: Many scientists and conservationists had been raising this demand for a long time. Why was this delayed by more than 20 years?
HNK: We submitted a report on the declining population of the primate to the Tamil Nadu forest department in 1997. The move had begun then itself, but it took more than two decades for the government to make a sanctuary for the slender loris in the state.
We conducted more studies and population surveys in Karur and Dindigul districts during this period, based on which the area was declared a sanctuary. Our team conducted a census in Pannamalai, Thanneerkaradu, Mudumalai and Thoppasamimalai reserved forests and assessed the species’ population.
When it comes to conservation, things take time. Policymakers are the ones who have to take up the issue and make rules regarding the same, which takes time. As researchers, we can only contribute scientific information.
Last year the Madras High Court directed the state government to submit an action-taken report on a public interest litigation that demanded slender loris sanctuary in the state. Then, things started to move.
SJ: Apart from habitat destruction, what are the major threats to the primates?
HNK: There are a lot of superstitions regarding the loris, which further harm the species. They are illegally traded as pets and are used for fortune telling. So, many fortune tellers capture them young and tame them to do their bidding. It is how they use parakeets in the northern parts of the country.
These practices have decreased over the past 20 years due to the strict implementation of laws. But there are still some who continue these.
They are even killed in some parts of the state since people consider them a bad omen. They are also used to cure some diseases and are captured or killed to make medicines. These are some threats that the loris species face in India.
There were a few cases where the primate was confiscated from the airport. Confiscation from the airport hints possible ongoing smuggling, but we do not have much information about the same.
SJ: What kind of habitats do these primates prefer? In which regions of India are they found?
HNK: There are two subspecies of the primate in India — Mysore grey slender loris and Malabar grey slender loris. These are native to India. In Sri Lanka, there is another species, the red slender loris.
Malabar Grey Slender Loris is found in the wet, evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. And Mysore Grey Slender Loris is found in the relatively drier regions of southern India. They are mostly found in thorn forests, Euphorbia open forests, croplands close to the forests and mixed deciduous forests.
The grey slender loris is found in regions ranging from Kanyakumari to certain parts of Maharashtra. It is found in the western slopes of the Western Ghats. In southwestern parts of India, the Malabar grey slender loris is found in the wet forests of the Western Ghats in the states of Karnataka and Kerala.
The Mysore grey slender loris inhabits the tropical dry forests of the Eastern Ghats in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Around 40 per cent to 50 per cent of their range in the Western Ghats already falls under some protected areas. But for the Mysore grey slender loris, this is the first dedicated protected area on sites with a large primate population.
The significant population of Mysore grey slender loris is found in a few districts of Tamil Nadu — Tiruchirapalli, Pudukottai, Sivaganga, Karur and Dindugal.
SJ: Do we have an estimated population of the primate in the country? And how is their population estimated?
HNK: These are nocturnal animals and counting their exact population is not possible. So, we mostly estimate their population based on sightings during the surveys. We surveyed 13 reserve forests of the Dindigul and Karur districts of the state from February 24-February 27, this year.
We predicted the lorises per hectare, using the calculated encounter rate from the survey. We presumed that the entire reserved forest has suitable habitat for the lorises. The predicted loris density was multiplied by the area of the reserved forests.
We spotted 1,176 lorises during our 374.11 kilometres of walk in 13 reserved forests of the two districts, earning an encounter rate of 3.14 lorises per kilometre.
Based on this estimate, Thoppasamimalai reserve forest in Dindigul and Mullipadi reserve forest in Karur district emerged as first and second, respectively. These reserves have a population size of 4,298 and 3,042 lorises, respectively. However, the country-wide population has not yet been estimated.
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