South Asia

'Extinct' primate, slender loris, pictured in Sri Lanka

A Horton Plains slender loris pictured in Sri Lanka (handout image on 19 July 2010 from Zoological Society of London)
Image caption Some in Sri Lanka believe lorises can ward off the evil eye or help curse enemies

The first known photograph of a rare primate that was feared extinct has been captured by researchers in central Sri Lanka.

The Horton Plains slender loris, which has short, sturdy limbs and long fur, was tracked down in highland forest.

The photo shows an adult male sitting on a branch.

The elusive primate has been spotted only four times since 1937 and disappeared altogether from 1939 until 2002, when it was last glimpsed.

Superstitions

Experts feared the primate, whose numbers fell dramatically as much of its habitat was lost to crops and tea plantations, had become extinct.

The mysterious creature was traced by a joint team from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Sri Lanka who conducted about 1,000 nocturnal searches in mountain forest.

The researchers were able to capture and physically examine one of the creatures, before releasing it back into the wild.

ZSL conservation biologist Dr Craig Turner said: "We are thrilled to have captured the first-ever photographs and prove its continued existence - especially after its 65-year disappearing act.

"This is the first time we have been able to conduct such a close examination of the Horton Plains slender loris," he said.

Slender lorises are small, nocturnal primates found only in the tropical forests of southern India and Sri Lanka.

About 6-10in long (15-25cm), their large eyes help their night-time hunting.

While the slender loris is extremely rare, other types of loris thrive in parts of South Asia and South East Asia.

Some communities believe eating loris flesh can treat leprosy. Tonics made from the animals are claimed to heal wounds and broken bones, and help women regain strength after childbirth.

In Sri Lanka, there is a belief that the animal's body parts can ward off the "evil eye" and be used to curse enemies. The primate's tears have been used as an ingredient in love potions.

Every year thousands of lorises are caught to supply such uses.

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