Saucer Eyed Little Darlings
By Risidra Mendis
The Grey Slender Loris with its large innocent eyes, small body, and thin hands and legs, is one of the most rare and threatened species in the country. Rarely seen due to its shy behaviour, this nocturnal primate that is native to Sri Lanka, is well modified to climb trees when going in search of food. The Slender Loris like many other species in the country has lost its habitat due to development and forest destruction.
However, miles away from Colombo in Sigiriya these elusive creatures have found their forever home. The Jetwing Vil Uyana Hotel has for many years provided a suitable habitat for the Slender Loris and has over the years witnessed the birth of many baby lorises. It all started way back in October 2010 when the Slender Loris was first spotted at the hotel by Assistant Manager of Jetwing Vil Uyana Chaminda Jayasekara. Since then, Jayasekara has been observing the species and monitoring their movements and breeding season. “When plans were taken to expand the hotel in 2010 to 2012, I noticed the Grey Slender Loris in the area that was earmarked for expansion.
I spotted three or four lorises at the beginning. I informed Jetwing Group Chairman Hiran Cooray of the sightings and he immediately abandoned the project. In November 2010 a trail, maintaining the naturalness of the area, was constructed with minimal disturbance to the animals,” Jayasekara explained.
Loris Conservation Site
He said the area was designated as a ‘Loris Conservation Site’ and in 2011 to 2012 four acres were separated for loris conservation. “The Chairman also bought another three acres from the adjoining land to increase the habitat area and to protect these rare creatures.
While encouraging the breeding and sightseeing of these creatures, the Loris Information Centre that was set up at the hotel was revamped recently. The Loris Information Centre, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, was opened in 2011. The Centre welcomes you back following its refurbishment,” Jayasekara explained. He said the Centre, which is located at the beginning of the popular Jetwing Vil Uyana Loris Trail, features an invaluable collection of information on the nocturnal primate’s habitat, behaviour, and ecology. “It has now been updated with the latest findings of the hotel’s ongoing loris research and conservation project.
The Centre was opened for the Slender Loris initially. The Centre has also been updated with fascinating information and insights about the hotel’s other research programmes such as the fishing cat and otter projects,” Jayasekara said. After the tour in search of these creatures is over, a book on the Slender Loris is given to the guests. Leaflets and booklets are also available at the Centre for anybody interested in learning more about the species. Over the years the Loris Conservation Centre’s popularity has grown and even non-resident guests also make use of the Centre. “Within the last eight years over 8,000 guests have visited the information centre.
Also when we have hotel visits from schools and universities, we do programmes there. To date more than 1,500 sightings have been recorded at the hotel,” Jayasekara explained.
The loris is protected under Section 30 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) and the species is also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also known as the Washington Convention. “Spotting a Slender Loris is by no means an easy task as they are small in size and cannot be seen easily at night. But for those experienced in knowing where to look, spotting this mysterious creature is not a difficult task.
“Seeing a loris during the day is very rare and for the last three and a half years lorises were spotted only four to five times in the daytime. Baby lorises are born from end March to end June and the mother carries the baby loris under her stomach for 30 to 40 days or until it is about one month old,” Jayasekara said. He said after this period the mother leaves the baby loris on the branches of a tree at night and goes in search of food and returns to her baby the following day early in the morning.
While the baby loris is waiting for its mother it starts walking slowly and tries to catch small insects. During this time the baby is very small and its size is about three inches. One month old baby lorises most often spend the night time alone. During the day the babies sleep with their mothers. At the age of two months some baby lorises can be seen alone and without their mothers during the daytime,” Jayasekara explained.
He said lorises are territorial creatures and when the baby is big enough to live alone the mother gives her territory to her grown baby and moves to another area.
“They are solitary animals but come together during October and November for breeding. The pregnancy period of a loris is five and a half months and the female is a little bigger than the male. They mainly feed on insects and jam fruit,” Jayasekara said. He said the main threat to the loris is electrocution. The forested area of Jetwing Vil Uyana supports a resident population of Grey Slender Loris that are about the size of a chipmunk (between 6 to 10 inches). “April May and June is the best time to see loris babies. Make sure you have a look at the Loris Information Centre on your next visit to Jetwing Vil Uyana and join us on our loris trail to catch a glimpse of this little-known creature of Sri Lanka’s nocturnal forests,” Jayasekara extended an open invitation.