Creatures of the Night
Their large, expressive eyes give away some of their secrets. Lorises are denizens of the night, emerging only when dark has fallen. Then they begin to crawl from branch to branch, extending their arms and legs and grasping tightly with tiny, almost human fingers. While they don’t look like the familiar monkeys and apes, lorises are in the family known as prosimians, a separate and more primitive form of primates.
Though Tropic World is one of the largest indoor zoo exhibits ever built, there simply is not enough space for every animal to be viewed by the public. So, for now at least, visitors must use their imagination to take a peek into the world of lorises—just one more example of the important animal care that goes on behind the scenes at Brookfield Zoo.
In A Shadowy Room
Taking care of nocturnal creatures means convincing them that our day is their nighttime. In a shadowy room deep inside Tropic World, keepers arrive each morning and flick a switch to turn on red lights that simulate darkness. This tells the lorises it is time to stir and begin their “nighttime” adventures.
Brookfield Zoo is home to two species of loris. The slender loris is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. Its lanky body is in some ways more reminiscent of a lizard than a primate. The pygmy loris is native to Vietnam and Laos; according to keepers, it most closely resembles a small teddy bear!
In August, the pygmy loris family welcomed twins! This is the first set of loris offspring at the zoo since 1997. Turan (the mother) and Gao (the father) came together only for breeding; afterwards, Gao returned to his enclosure, and Turan to hers, where she raised the youngsters on her own, just as the species would in the wild.
Here at the zoo, under the slightly spooky glow of the “night” lights, the pygmy loris family is completely at home. These solitary animals have huge eyes in relation to their head size. Somewhat like a cat’s, their eyes have a special membrane at the back called a “tapetum lucidum.” This membrane helps to gather every bit of light from the darkness, so that the animals can see.
Trees If You Please
Loris life isn’t just about darkness; these creatures like to live the arboreal life. They are excellent climbers and grabbers, using all four limbs to crawl through low, shrubby trees. When playing, searching for food (such as insects), or even just taking a nice stretch, the lorises will often hang upside down, sideways, or just about any direction that suits them. Lorises take moving through the trees with ease, going quietly and almost invisibly through the leaves.
At the zoo, Turan and the others also take to the trees. In fact, Turan used the branches as a living baby-sitter for her two infants. Though they will cling tightly to her for most of the first year, within a few weeks they were strong enough to be left alone for brief periods while she searched for a snack. She “parked” the infants in a safe spot on the trees. They instinctively knew to hold very still, so as not to attract the attention of predators. (Not a problem in a zoo, of course!) By the time they are about one year old, they will be able to survive without her care.
Though lorises like to live alone, even the most solitary will sometimes reach out to touch a loris pal. Lorises lick and groom each other as part of their social contact. They have a special tooth comb to clean out their fur, and one special grooming claw on each foot.
Most of the time, though, a loris will be by itself, hanging out quietly in a tangle of branches during the day, and ambling through the trees at night. Adult pygmy lorises are only about 8 to 10 inches long; such a tiny animal is difficult to see in the dark, and their skillful climbing means they make little noise while moving. That is why caring for them in zoos is so very important, since it gives us a chance to watch the animals close-up.
Night Life at the Zoo
Brookfield Zoo’s keepers love caring for lorises. According to keeper Nava Greenblatt, “I wish everyone could see how special these animals are. We are very fortunate to have them in our collection. Both of the species at Brookfield Zoo are part of the Species Survival Plan, so we work with other zoos to learn about them and keep the population healthy and growning. We were the first zoo to successfully hand-rear pygmy lorises, but of course we are happiest when a female like Turan is able to care for her children all on her own.”
Greenblatt spends some time every day in the company of the lorises. She uses raisins, mealworms, and other treats to encourage the animals to be comfortable with her, so that she can do visual inspections and make sure they are healthy. The lorises also know how to pause for a few moments on a scale, so that she can get an accurate weight.
Additionally, Greenblatt and the other Tropic World keepers collect fecal samples from the animals, for analysis by our behavioral endocrinology lab. This helps us keep track of when the females are in estrus, so we can plan for successful breeding.
When the door shuts softly each evening, the lorises can settle in for a long day’s nap, safe and secure in the keepers’ care.
Even though you cannot see lorises at the zoo, you can get a good look at them online! Keepers shot some great video for online viewing.
If you do not have Windows Media or Quicktime you can download them here by clicking on the tiles below:
- Early on, the twins spent most of their time litterally hanging around with their mom Turan:
- Later, the little ones got the hang of climbing: