New species of primate discovered

Scientists have identified a new species of slow loris in the jungles of Borneo, Indonesia.

The slow loris (Nycticebus) is a shy, nocturnal primate that is closely related to the lemur. Scientists made the discovery after analysing the distinctive fur patterns around the faces of different populations.  The new species is known as Nycticebus kayan and is named for a major river, the ‘Kayan’, flowing through its home in the central-east highlands of Borneo. 

The team also identified two other distinct species of slow loris, previously classified as a ‘sub-species’, that were actually unique species in their own right

“Technological advances have improved our knowledge about the diversity of several nocturnal mammals,” says 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.”

The international team of scientists identified a total of four species of Bornean and Phillipine lorises from their distinctive facemasks: N. menagensis, N. bancanus, N. borneanus and N. kayan. They speculate that the jungles of Borneo and nearby Phillipines may be harbouring even more diversity and new species as yet unknown to science.

“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,” adds Munds.

In spite of their cute outward appearance, slow lorises have a toxic bite which is a rare trait among mammals. The toxin helps protect against predators such as orangutans, snakes and hawk eagles. However, it is not predators but human activity that represent  the greatest threats to the slow loris: habitat fragmentation and the exotic pet trade have left the species seriously threatened.

“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,” says co-author Professor Nekaris, from Oxford Brookes University, UK.

All species of slow loris are currently listed as threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List. Further details on the new species are published in the American Journal of Primatology