A study by the Biology Department of Gandhigram Rural University highlights the need to conserve the Grey Slender Loris
“We were a small group of six members walking into the forest in the dead of the night,” recalls Dr. R. Ramasubbu, Assistant Professor of Biology, Gandhigram Rural University. Since the past few months, he along with his students has been venturing into the Ayyalur Reserve Forest in Dindigul District in search of the elusive Grey Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus), commonly called Thevangu in Tamil, as part of a study on the population and distribution of the arboreal mammal. “Each time we lit our torches, we found pairs of glowing eyes blinking at us in the dark. Though it was unnerving, it was also a relief to know that the Lorises are still alive.” In the recent times, the Grey Slender Lorises have become a rarity and are on the verge of extinction, warn researchers.
Lorises are unique tiny creatures that live on trees. Endemic to the Eastern Ghats they are distributed in select pockets across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The patch of deciduous shrub forest in Ayyalur, situated on the Dindigul-Tiruchi-Karur border has been identified as an international hotspot for the Grey Slender Loris by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). “However, the Loris has been listed among the least concerned category of animals and that’s due to lack of sufficient reports to indicate that they are actually under threat,” says Ramasubbu. “The aim of our study is to generate as many records regarding the dwindling population, the shrinking habitat and the threat from hunters and poachers, the animal is facing. The species of Grey Slender Loris should be listed as endangered.”
Roping in students from Biology, Botany and Microbiology departments, the professor along with Social Education and Environmental Development Scheme (SEEDS) Trust, an NGO based in Dindigul, have found that the population of the Loris has come down by at least 50 per cent. “Ayyalur is believed to have the highest density of Loris, in the State. The earlier surveys put the number at four per square kilometre. But our recent study reveals that only two adults are found on an average in one square kilometre of area,” says P. Muthusamy, Director, SEEDS.
“Loris is a peculiar animal belonging to the monkey family. They live under crevices of rocks and holes on tree trunks and are usually found on short trees not taller than 300 metres,” says Ramasubbu, pointing out that the rocky, thorny shrub forest of Ayyalur is a perfect habitat. Abound with a dozen stunted hillocks Ayyalur and Kadavur Reserve Forests are part of the Eastern Ghats.
So far, the study has covered eight hillocks along 15 villages. “Rampant hunting for meat is a major reason for the decline in population. People also attribute fake medicinal values and superstitious beliefs to the poor animal, for which they are poached,” says Muthusamy. “Since Lorises are nocturnal, they move in groups of four or five at night. During the day, they are easily hunted when their eyesight is poor and they rest on trees.” Since the last couple of years, SEEDS Trust has been working on introducing alternative livelihood for the villagers surrounding Ayyalur. “If the villagers are dissuaded from hunting and offered other jobs, the Loris population can be enhanced. We conduct skill training sessions and give awareness talks to sensitise people.”
An adult Loris measures from 35 cm to 45 cm in length and weighs around 300 grams. The mammal gives birth to two young ones every breeding season in the end of summer. The juveniles may weigh over 30 grams. A Loris is omnivorous and feeds on a range of insects, rodents, tender shoots of Acacia trees and sometimes on the young ones of birds, says Ramasubbu. They are also a natural pest control, as they extensively prey on grasshoppers, scorpions and other farm pests. “We suspect that the usage of pesticides has also contributed to the fall in the number of Loris in Ayyalur, which is surrounded by farmlands. The dead insects are eaten by Loris, thereby indirectly consuming the chemicals.”