Lorises are cute, cuddly but make terrible pets

  • Large, red eyes on a loris are a natural adaptation that allows these nocturnal creatures to hunt for food in the dim light during nighttime.

    Large, red eyes on a loris are a natural adaptation that allows these nocturnal creatures to hunt for food in the dim light during nighttime. Courtesy of Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

Posted5/1/2017 12:53 PM

You wanted to know

A young patron at Grayslake Library asked about this member of the lemur family, "How and why are slow lorises dangerous?"


A mid-May move-in day at Brookfield Zoo's Tropic World exhibit is scheduled for a pygmy loris family.

The new exhibit will recreate their native rain forest habitat and allow zoo visitors to take a peek at the furry tree-climbers in action.

Special red lighting will turn the night into day. This family, a loris mom, dad and baby, will think it's nighttime during the daytime, grasping tree limbs and searching for foods, such as insects and gum resins from trees. When the last visitors leave the exhibit each evening, the lorises will think it's time to sleep and the exhibit lighting will seem brighter.

Lorises, slow lorises, pygmy lorises and slender lorises have a special adaptation that makes hanging around in trees for very long periods of time possible, according to Craig Demitros, associate curator of primates at Brookfield Zoo.

"The blood supply can shut off and go toward certain areas of their limbs so they can lock onto the tree limbs if needed," Demitros said.

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This ingenious feat allows them to very slowly creep up on favorite foods such as stinging ants and locusts, then quickly lunge and use all four feet to grasp onto tree limbs while reaching for prey. Being most active at night, they use their oversized eyes and ears to pick out prey and locate fruits and tree gum.

Lorises and slow lorises are primates native to Southeast Asia. The word loris, originating from a Dutch word, means clown.

Related animals are pottos, false pottos and angwantibos and lemurs. Like lemurs, their fur-covered bodies range in color from grey-brown to red-brown, with striping and dark rings surrounding the eyes like a raccoon. Because of their late night eating habits, lorises have very large eyes with tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer that heightens night vision.

Lorises eat plant gums, insects and occasionally slugs. Capturing a fast hopping grasshopper is a snap for these slow animals when they use a special chemical that leaches from a joint in its elbows. The chemical acts like an allergen to stun its prey.

Lorises also slather their babies with the chemical when they park their infants, a term used to explain how some animal parents leave babies in a nest so the parents can rummage for food. The allergen covering would taste foul to a possible predator and hopefully encourage them to look elsewhere for a snack.


Demitros cautions that while large-eyed, furry animals like these primates look cute and cuddly, they are terrible pets.

"Unfortunately, photos of these animals have made the rounds on the internet, making people think they are readily available," he said.

The attention from the internet has fueled illegal trade in the animals, pushing this species close to extinction.

Demitros' vast knowledge of primates, and in particular gorillas, has placed him among the top advisers on the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, which supports education, research and care for these endangered animals and collaboration among zoos worldwide.

"I've been lucky enough to go to Uganda and see gorillas in the wild," Demitros said. "It was the opportunity of a lifetime."

Demitros explained that gorillas are still being poached, and their habitat is rapidly eroding.

"Unfortunately, they live in areas that are hard to enforce," he said. "A lot of good things are being done, though. Zoos support conservation in the wild and the mountain gorilla population has been increasing."

Check out more information about endangered and threatened animals on the International Union for Conservation of Nature website, www.iucn.org.

Learn more about all types of animals at the Brookfield Zoo's Zoo camp. See https://www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Learning/Zoo-Camp to find a camp that suits your interests and availability.

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