Exploring cultural drivers for wildlife trade via an ethnoprimatological approach: a case study of slender and slow lorises (Loris and Nycticebus) in South and Southeast Asia

Am J Primatol. 2010 Sep;72(10):877-86. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20842.


Illegal and unsustainable trade in wildlife is a major conservation challenge. For Asian primates, economic and cultural traditions, and increased forest access mean that trade may have become detrimental for certain species. Slow and slender lorises (Nycticebus and Loris) are primates particularly prevalent in trade, determined until now by focused counts of lorises in regional markets. Here, we use international trade statistics and a participant-observer approach to assess culturally specific drivers for trade in lorises in South and Southeast Asia, to provide a broader context to help mitigate this practice. Analysis of international records for the last 30 years revealed that live animal trade was more prevalent than trade in body parts (slow lorises, 86.4%; slender lorises, 91.4%), with Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand the largest exporters. We then examine drivers of international and domestic trade based on long-term data from 1994-2009 in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Indonesia. We show that slender lorises are important in Sri Lankan folklore, but their use as pets and for traditional medicine is rare. Trade in Bengal slow and pygmy lorises in Cambodia for use in traditional medicines, a practice with deeply historical roots, is widespread. Despite its own set of myths about the magical and curative properties of lorises, trade in Javan, Bornean, and greater slow lorises in Indonesia is largely for pets. Conservation practices in Asia are often generalized and linked with the region's major religions and economies. We show here that, in the case of wildlife trade, culturally specific patterns are evident among different ethnic groups, even within a country. Revealing such patterns is the foundation for developing conservation management plans for each species. We suggest some participatory methods for each country that may aid in this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Commerce*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lorisidae / growth & development*
  • Social Environment